The Highland Council recently voted by 37-11 to call on the Scottish Office to hold an independent public enquiry into all the issues surrounding the Skye Bridge. They have also demanded that the Scottish Office suspend the toll collection of the tolls in the interest of public safety.
Speaking during the meeting, Skye councillor Drew Miller said, "We need to know why this public finance initiative has gone so badly wrong. The cost of the bridge was estimated initially at £12 million. The cost of paying it off was then put at "24 million plus the £15 million of taxpayers' money that the consortium got in the first place."
"But if you look at what the company will get in tolls over the collection period, they will get £73 million plus the £15 million paid by the taxpayer - a total of £88 million - and there is no certainty that the tolls will be removed. That money will not come from the taxpayer but from the economy of Skye and Lochalsh."
"There is also questions about who owns the bridge and who has the right to collect the tolls. Who is accountable if something goes wrong? In the interests of public safety the tolls should be suspended until that is sorted out."
Council Convenor Peter Peacock argued that a public enquiry would reveal nothing new. "The National Audit Office has already shown the shortcomings of the scheme and a public enquiry would reveal nothing new. It won't make the slightest difference to the toll regime."
"If the bridge which is currently in the private sector transfers to the public sector this will impose a sum of £25 million on the public purse, and the only place this money can come from is from the Scottish block grant." SKAT would argue that £15 million of the initial estimated cost of £25 million has ALREADY been paid by the taxpayer.
Mr Peacock came under fire from his own colleagues as well. Councillor Douglas Briggs said, "You were elected to represent our views to Government, not to represent Government views to us." Councillor Sandy MacKenzie added that he found it amazing that the Convener who had attacked the Tories over PFI now supported the idea.
Even the Vice-Convener David Green disagreed with his colleague. "I am not with you on this one. We cannot pejudge a public enquiry. This is about a principle, not about pragmatic politics, and the principle of the Skye Bridge is wrong."
Afterwards, Robbie the Pict said "It is significant that the council, who are the agents for the project, send a message to the Secretary of State that the project is so out of control that an exhaustive public enquiry is required."
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 1999.
Most recent revision, 14 March 1999