In the week when Parliament get an opportunity to debate a damning Public Accounts Committee report which highlighted serious deficiencies in the Skye bridge projects financial arrangements, SKAT can reveal that the legislation which allows a private company to charge tolls on the bridge is also seriously flawed, to the extent that the whole scheme should be conceded as unlawful. SKATs contention that Skye bridge legislation is suspect has gained the support of one of Scotlands foremost legal experts. The anti-tolls group are now calling on the government to take the opportunity of this weeks debate to deliver on their pre-election commitment "to abolish the tolls as soon as practicably possible".
In essence the problem for the government is that the assignation of the right to charge and collect tolls was not effected according to statute. In particular, it has emerged that the Assignation Statement identifying the authorised concessionaire, was not published along with the Toll Order, as legislation requires.
SKAT Convener and Highland Councillor Drew Millar is delighted that suspicions about the scheme have finally been confirmed. "It has been revealed that required paperwork allowing the tolls to be charged by Bank of America should have been put in place in a certain way. The Scottish Office, in their indecent haste to set up this scheme, has not followed statute. They have made a complete býrach of the legislation and we are convinced that the Skye Bridge scheme is now absolutely indefensible."
Mr Millars views have attracted the support of Edinburgh Universitys Professor Robert Black QC., who is one of the countrys leading legal minds. "Its a pretty fatal flaw, especially when the Assignation Statement has not been published with the Toll Order. That is the clincher."
Furthermore SKAT can show that the Assignation Statement, which is supposed to give the Secretary of States permission to a third party to charge and collect tolls, is undated, unsigned and, crucially, untrue. The statement identifies Skye Bridge Tolls Ltd. as the concessionaire and weeks after the Statement was made ownership of the company was secretly transferred into the hands of Bank of America. The change of ownership was not admitted at the Public Inquiry into the bridge nor, as Charles Kennedy MP has revealed, was Parliament properly advised. This would appear to have grave consequences for the scheme. According to Prof. Black, "As it stands it deprives the whole procedure of any usefulness or value. What is the point of having an assignation statement that need only true for a day and can be subsequently changed completely. How does that serve the public?"
Bank of America are currently under arraignment in the US for embezzlement of public funds.
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 1999.
Most recent revision, 12 January 1999