SKAT are accusing the Government of a cheap and pathetic attempt to rig in their favour the results of survey into the effects of the Skye Bridge on the island and its economy. In the wake of the publication of the highly-critical Public Accounts Committee report on the bridge Government ministers responded with the announcement of a far-reaching survey. But the main plank of that survey, a Systems Three questionnaire delivered in the last few days to most households on the island, has been slammed by anti-toll protesters as more likely to generate a smokescreen than to shed any light on the extent to which the island economy is being squeezed by the punitive tolls on the bridge.
"The blurb on the questionnaire announces that the Government are keen to hear our views on the effect of the bridge," said SKAT convener Drew Millar, "but this questionnaire provides no opportunity at all for people to air their views. Instead it concentrates on asking a series of inane questions on matters of peripheral interest and completely avoids the contentious issue of extortionate and unlawful tolls."
The questionnaire is so poorly structured and diverse that it is impossible to even guess at the probable remit System Three were given by the Government. Fuelling suspicions further is the fact that the Scottish Office have so far refused to divulge to SKAT what they commissioned the research company to do.
"Whats even more galling is that this survey represents yet more of the tax-payers money being spent by the Government in defence of the Skye bridge project." Drew Millar added, "If they wanted to find out what the tolls are doing to the economy of this island there are many better and cheaper ways of doing it - for a start they could actually listen to what the B&Bs say."
Given that this survey is likely to form part of the Governments response to the Public Accounts Committee report on the bridge SKAT has already sent a copy of the questionnaire to every member of this committee so they can see for themselves just how inadequate this element of the information gathering exercise has been.
The survey asks users how much more people use the bridge compared to the ferry, however it does not ask if people use it less than previously. There are a noticeable lack of questions relating to how much worse people feel they are with the bridge, or about the level of tolls. The survey also appears to have been sent to people whose names have come from a commercially available address list, and not the Voters Roll. So much for the Government wanting a true reflective view of public opinion!
In a further move SKAT have formally called for a meeting with Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar, to discuss how the Government can retreat, with their credibility intact, from the intransigent position they have inadvisedly adopted over the toll issue.
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 1998.
Most recent revision, 16 September 1998