Campaigners Claim New Victory

by Willie Morrison

Consultants who drew up a study on the feasibility of constructing a bridge to Skye in 1986 have confirmed to Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy that the document - which cost Highland Regional Council 100,000 to commission - was made available to firms tendering for the contract at only 50 a copy.

This admission is yet another victory for anti-toll protesters, who had long suspected that the reports had been freely available to contractors.

It is a boost to the ongoing campaign by Mr Kennedy and protesters, who have been trying to uncover the complexities of the tendering process, in the light of bridge costs mushrooming. An initial estimate in the study of just over 10million has now reached a real cost of at least 128million, as revealed earlier this year by the Parliamentary Accounts Committee.

Glasgow-based JMP Consultants have told Mr Kennedy that they believed all companies which submitted bids to build the Skye Bridge bought copies of the reports before submitting tenders.

JMP, who were chosen by Scottish Office Tory minister Lord James Douglas-Hamilton to become agents for the bridge, and to pick the winning contract, have also confirmed that the three final tenders, by successful bidder Miller-Dywidag, Morrison and Trafalgar, were of types of bridge considered in the feasibility report, although their designs were not identical.

The consultants told Mr Kennedy: "It is fair to say that all designs were variations of one or other of the feasibility designs contained within the report. We would have been very surprised if that had not been the case."

Mr Kennedy said he was continuing his correspondence with JMP Consultants, to find out the names of those in the consultancy who had assessed the contractors' submissions.

Some tenders have since revealed that they were not even asked to cost the design.

The MP and campaigners are also anxious to uncover the identity of JMP's financial adviser, who drew up the discounted toll repayment scheme, whereby each 1 paid by a motorist at the Skye Bridge toll booth is progressively considered to be worth a smaller amount each year, and which has largely led to the huge escalation in the real cost of the bridge. The adviser is thought to be a well-known Edinburgh merchant bank.

JMP have told Mr Kennedy: "We were primarily concerned with the engineering of the project, and we are disappointed that this aspect has been completely overshadowed by concerns over the PFI procurement process."

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Copyright Ray Shields, 2000.

Most recent revision, 03 July 2000