The Skye bridge should have as high a profile in todays STUC debate on the PFI as the new Edinburgh hospital or any other privately financed project. As the conference gears up for its most important motion which calls on the Labour Government to abandon the principle of public/private partnerships, Skye bridge anti-toll group, SKAT, is calling on STUC delegates meeting in Glasgow to heed the dire warnings from the first PFI in the UK. Only ten days before the notorious tolls rise for the eighth time to record high levels islanders are warning that the range of difficulties encountered by PFI projects cannot be understood without consideration of the Bank of America funded bridge project which opened in 1995.
SKAT convener, Drew Millar, recently returned unopposed as Highland councillor for Portree, said "Naturally were delighted that the problems with PFI which are hitting us so hard here on Skye are now being highlighted nationally by the STUC. While it my not be proposed at this stage that direct user fees will be levied at privately funded hospitals and schools, Skyes experience has been that once the principle of tolls is in place they rise and rise in line with inflation on a regular basis".
Councillor Millar pointed to the latest index linked increase in Skye Bridge tolls which takes effect on 1st May. On that date, he said, one-way journey for a car will be £5.70 and for coach £41.20. "What staggers people learning of this is that the same amount is levied for the return journey meaning that, for example, tourist coaches on which the islands tourist trade depends have to pay £82.40 when some of them spend no more than a couple of hours on the island. And remember that this bridge is smaller than many motorway fly-overs in Central Scotland. To say that the £11.40 return toll which car drivers will have to pay is excessive is an understatement and the conditions attached to the regular user concession means that it doesnt help much".
Several high-ranking STUC officials are members of SKAT and have joined toll non-payment demonstrations. SKAT says that the people of Skye are appreciative of STUC support in the past and say that consideration of their plight in Conferences deliberations today will go along way towards helping the islanders achieve their goal of having the tolls removed from the bridge.
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 1999.
Most recent revision, 26 April 1999