Leaked Bridge Documents Reveal All

Some kind soul has possibly put the final nail in the coffin of the tolls on the Skye Bridge by leaking the entire documentation associated with the Skye Bridge contract, including 170 sensitive pages, to SKAT campaigner Robbie the Pict.

According to the documents, it shows that the operators of the Skye bridge have not been legally entitled to collect the extortionate tolls in the way they have for the past two years, according to contract details.

Provisions contained in the contract between the Scottish Office and the company - which both insisted must remain secret because of commercial sensitivity - make this clear.

Robbie, who has had to resign as SKAT Legal Advisor as part of his bail conditions after his latest appearence in Dingwall, promises a series of disclosures over the coming weeks, which can only further embarrass the Scottish Office and the Skye Bridge company. He said, "These documents raise many issues which must be aired in the interests of open government and freedom of information."

"Questions on the presentation of accounts; arrangements for VAT; the role of the Highland Regional Council; the right of the Bank of America; the secret funding from a Dutch bank operating from a PO box in Manchester; even the failure to provide a cattle grid on the Skye side of the bridge."

"There are some areas which require expert advice, which I am pursuing. But today I want to concentrate on one crucial legal issue which has been at the heart of the campaign from the start. Namely, whether the people charging and collecting the tolls are legally entitled to do so. It would appear they are not."

Since the SKAT campaign against the bridge tolls began in October 1995, Skye Bridge Limited and the Scottish Office have refused to release 170 specific pages of the agreements, even to those facing prosecution for non-payment of the tolls.

We now find out why. Robbie is convinced one of the reasons for the official diffidence is to be found on page 66 of the Concession Agreement (E3100152.041) in Clause 28, which states: "Save as provided in Clause 37 of the Development Agreement (which covers financial agreements), except where this agreement expressly provides otherwise the Concessionaire shall not be entitled to assign or sub-contract its rights or obligations under this Agreement in whole or part without the consent of the Secretary of State..."

The significance of this clause lies in the identity of the concessionaire . It has been argued that the Secretary of State has never properly assigned his right to collect the tolls to any concessionaire. But in all official documentation the concessionaire is named as Skye Bridge Tolls Ltd, whose title was later changed to Skye Bridge Ltd.

Robbie has now legally acquired the former title, but the latter company comprises the bridge builders Miller/Dywidag and its bankers, the Bank of America.

Those who charge and collect the tolls, however, are not employed by Skye Bridge Ltd, but by Miller Civil Engineering Ltd. This has been confirmed repeatedly in court.

Since October 19, 1995, SKAT have been asking to see the document signed by the Secretary of State allowing Skye Bridge Ltd to sub-contract its rights and obligations to Miller Civil Engineering. No document has yet been produced.

Robbie said, "It is unremarkable that the above extract from the Concession Agreement was kept from the public gaze, especially from the eyes of the people trying to defend themselves in Dingwall Sheriff Court or in Edinburgh."

"Clause 28 nails the lies, created in Dingwall and blindly supported in Edinburgh, that there was a legitimate extension of powers from the Secretary of State to Skye Bridge Tolls Ltd, and thence to Miller Civil Engineering, to collect tolls at the Skye Bridge."

"Such private sub-contracting of powers supposedly assigned to the Concessionaire is simply prohibited without the written consent of the Secretary of State, and so it should be."

A Scottish Office spokesman would only say, last night, "We do not comment on leaked documents. That is the established practice." While a spokeswoman for the company, meanwhile, said, "Skye Bridge Ltd is content that the necessary consents are in place."

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Copyright © Ray Shields, 1997.

Most recent revision, 11 August 1997.