A Letter To The West Highland Free Press

Monday 19th May 2003 To: Letters WHFP

Dear Sir,

On the front page of the WHFP last week you reported on the "Bridge tolls review pledge" in which you give prominence to the views you report to be from Maureen MacMillan MSP.

The implication seems to be that John Farquhar Munro MSP is misrepresenting the position of the coalition agreement when he says the toll will be abolished. Maureen is giving us the unvarnished "real" position which politicians prepared to "make hard choices" need to do.

Another example of undiluted New Labour spin:

Perhaps what is unpalatable to New Labour is that John Farquhar made a promise to the electorate on the Skye Bridge tolls, and has consistently tried to keep that promise, and that the electorate have rewarded him for that. After all John Farquhar did increase his majority very significantly, while Maureen fell to third place.

What is the "real" aspect of the coalition deal on this issue, which Maureen wants to protect?

It is alleged that the Lib/Dems rejected a reduction of tolls to £1-00. If this is true, then the Lib/Dems are to be congratulated. If the tolls (all toll not just some) were reduced to £1-00 each way there would be three significant consequences which must be evident to anyone who looks at this project with even an elementary understanding of economics. (1) Such a deal would retain the PFI structure, and would require further massive public subsidy ( from the current £2m per annum to perhaps £5m) (2) Since the cost of collecting the toll, according to the company's own accounts, is higher than £1 per capita, then the collecting system itself would be uneconomic, and would need to be subsidised. (3) After this entire massive subsidy, the local people would still pay the highest toll (per yard of road) in the UK.

Now who is being realistic? If Maureen is putting the case for retaining a toll of £1-00 on the Skye Bridge. Then she is not arguing for support for the local community, which is shown to be losing £5m per annum from the local economy because of the Bridge toll (even after it had public subsidy). Nor is she arguing for Scottish taxpayers who are already paying over £2m to subsidise this PFI.

Maureen is being used to put up the case for the PFI, which would be the only possible gainer from retaining the PFI this way. It may of course be that Maureen is not aware of how she is being used by the New Labour spin-doctors, but any objective assessment of the situation would show that her proposal would amount to an increased massive subsidy to this American Company.

The Company is too wise to argue its case in public, because it knows it would be exposed, so it gets New Labour spin-doctors to use Maureen to present it. If the Coalition agreement requires a proper review of the bridge tolls system, and if the review is undertaken objectively there can be no doubt about the outcome. The only rational thing to do is to abolish the toll. That is precisely why Government Ministers have refused to answer questions on the finances of the PFI scheme, and have hidden away from it for years throwing public money at the problem rather than facing it.

All we in SKAT have wanted is for the issue to be examined objectively and decided on its merits. If this is done then the abolition of this Tory PFI is the only logical outcome. So John Farquhar is absolutely right, the acceptance of an object review must lead logically to abolition.

If Maureen thinks not, she should tell us why. Is the review not intended to be objective? Are there other economic factors hidden from the public, which Maureen knows about? Come on Maureen share your secret with us Who in there right mind would continue to defend this failed PFI scheme, and why? How much more public money will we pay to the American Company ?

Le deagh dhùrachd,

Andy Anderson

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Copyright © Ray Shields, 2003.

Most recent revision, 03 June 2003