Damning Indictment of Bridge Funding by PAC

Read the whole report from the Public Accounts Committee!

Pressure is growing for heads to roll among Scottish Office officials involved in the Skye Bridge project following the publication of a highly critical report by a parliamentary watchdog over the way they handled the deal.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee attacked many aspects of the way the Scottish Office dealt with the bridge development. The committee found that the Scottish Office failed to protect the interests of taxpayer and toll payers, who will fork out a total of 53 million for a bridge whose overall construction costs of being estimated at well under 10 million.

Among the findings, Professor Jim Inness, director of roads in the Scottish Office's development department, told the committee that at one point during negotiations the Scottish Office accepted a comfort letter from Bank of America which told them the way the project was been financed by the winning bidders, Miller Dywidag, was viable.

In the event the financial arrangements did not prove viable and ended costing toll payers an extra 2 million. The Bank of America were the project's financial backers and it has now been revealed they own almost all of the shares in Skye Bridge Limited!

The Scottish Office was unable to say this week whether they were aware of the role in the Skye Bridge deal when they accepted the details of the comfort. They said they would respond "in due course".

Charles Kennedy, MP for Skye & Lochalsh said the report was a damning indictment of the bridge contract and the ministers responsible for it.

"People like Michael Forsyth and Lord James Douglas Hamilton should apologise to my constituents for their attitude and incompetence - particularly the latter having described the bridge protestors as being 'lunatic and luddite'"

SKAT vice-convenor Alastair MacLean said he felt the report totally vindicated SKAT's actions over the last two and a half years and claimed many of the report's had actually been based on investigations by SKAT members.

He reminded Labour of their pre-election commitment to work on a strategy for the elimination of tolls "within the shortest practical timescale" and said that this was the ideal time to do so. "The longer the tolls go on the more damage this will cause Labour politically".

Robbie the Pict said the committee had committed a "gross oversight" by not looking at the accountancy behind the actual toll collection itself. "The people who collect the toll do not work for a public company so how on earth do the public know when we have paid enough tolls. The company who are authorised to collect the tolls, Miller Dywidag are not registered at Companies House and do not keep public accounts."

A Scottish Office official said that the Skye Bridge Company's accounts were available at Companies House. They estimate that the tolls will be on the bridge for another 12 to 16 years and said that to the end of December 1997 tolls on the bridge had taken in 6,829,977 in cash terms.

This figure is disputed by SKAT who reckon that around 11 million of the 24 million toll order has already been paid off. At that rate the tolls would come off in just six years! However, due to the generous deal given by the previous Government the minimum toll period is 14 years which, at SKAT's reckoning, would mean more than double the amount of money originally anticipated in the toll order heading into the Bank of America's coffers

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Copyright Ray Shields, 1998.

Most recent revision, 10 July 1998