Press Release 13 July 1998

New Bridge Study Under Fire

Skye Bridge anti-tolls group SKAT are seriously concerned about the costs to the tax-payer of a Scottish Office survey into the effects the notorious bridge tolls are having on island businesses. The protest group, whose numbers have swelled following last month's publication of a damning Commons' report on the bridge project, say that for the tax-payer to be forking out further large sums on the bridge at this time is scandalous.

Drew Millar, Highland Councillor for Portree and SKAT Convener, is unimpressed with the Government's machinations. "They tell me that a Lowland company has already been working for a couple of months on the Skye Bridge issue, but no one knows who they are, what their remit is, what authority or expertise they have to be conducting such a study and how much it is to cost the tax-payer. So far they have not contacted any individual or firm in Skye - all we know is that the Government have confirmed that the study will be completed by December. We're half way through the tourist season and not one of the businesses that are suffering left, right and centre because of this toll has been consulted."

SKAT members, meeting in Portree on Saturday, heard serious reservations about the way in which consultants, apparently unfamiliar with the Highland economy, had been awarded such a lucrative contract. Councillor Millar said that this was of particular concern bearing in mind the Commons' Public Accounts Committee's severe criticism of the way consultants on the bridge construction project were appointed in the first place. He added that he hoped that croney-ism had not reared its ugly head here too.

SKAT, whose membership comprises many of the island's leading business figures, also questions the need for yet another confirmation of the devastating effects tolls are having on Skye and the Western Isles. The single journey cost for a car is 5.60 while coaches and lorries now have to pay tolls, which are climbing towards 100 return. Business leaders and tourist operators say they are having one of their worst seasons ever and only last week the Stornoway based Western Isles Council also raised the toll issue at the meeting of the Highlands and Islands Convention in Lerwick. SKAT emphasise that if a House of Commons Debate is to be held on the tolls issue before the summer recess it would make sense also to raise the question of who in the Scottish Office had authorised the latest study and precisely what it is they are trying to prove.

Contact:- Drew Millar 01478 612895, Alasdair Maclean 01470 521488

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Copyright Ray Shields, 1998.

Most recent revision, 13 July 1998