The Scottish Office is working overtime to ensure that the public are prevented from getting full and frank details about the funding and operation of the Skye bridge project. In the week when tolls on the infamous Skye bridge rise to record levels, the Scottish Office has rejected a call from the Highland Council for a Public Inquiry into the bridge while also continuing to sit on a highly critical report they themselves commissioned into its economic impact. The Scottish Office have chosen deliberately to obstruct any further attempt to cast light the discredited project because it would be politically devastating, particularly in the run up to the Scottish Parliamentary election.
Commenting on the Scottish Offices refusal to entertain a full public inquiry into the Skye bridge PFI Drew Millar, SKATs convener, roundly criticised their head in the sand attitude. "Everyone knows that the way the previous administration set up this particular PFI was an archetypal burach and one in which the interests of the islanders were completely ignored. Yet we in Skye and the Western Isles are having to pick up the very substantial tab for their incompetence. But the current administration is so protective of their precious PFIs that they will not allow anything which might undermine the peoples perception of their usefulness. Its a very unsubtle cover-up."
But Mr Millar reserved his strongest criticisms of the Labour administration for the way that they continue to suppress a report on the economic effects of the bridge. This was a report the Scottish Office commissioned from DTZ Peida which was conducted last year and was due to be completed in December 1998. "The Government has had great problems with this report. The first draft produced by the consultants, of which details have been leaked to SKAT, revealed that the perception of the bridge by the community and particularly by the business sector was very poor indeed. It even showed that folk living here felt that the bridge was having a deleterious effect on education in the island! Clearly the Government could not let results of this nature get into the public domain."
A further difficulty for the Government is that with any bridge building project there is invariably a positive and significant economic benefit deriving from it for the places it links. That this has not happened in the case of the Skye bridge, a direct result of the punitive tolls, is something that they could not admit. "Rather than come clean about the effects of the bridge the Government is burying its head in the sand. They know it will have to be published sometime but they will delay its appearance until after the election."
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 1999.
Most recent revision, 26 April 1999