Press Release 15 December 1997

Padding The Profits for the Bank of America

The scheme to reduce tolls on the Skye Bridge announced by the Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar, is an ill-thought out gesture which is more likely to benefit the Bank of America than the people of Skye.

The restrictions on period of validity and the transferability of the concession tickets which Millers/Bank of America are due to announce today will mean that only a minority of local bridge users will be able to take full advantage of reductions. Books of 20 tickets will be valid for twelve months only but few islanders cross the bridge so often in any one year and so, for them, the much-vaunted reduction is a hollow joke. Furthermore Millers/Bank of America will tell us that tickets are not transferable - but has anyone given thought to families with two cars or individual cars with more than one regular driver? The situation will surely arise where books of tickets are not completely used before the end their period of validity and as a result the bridge-user loses. Nevertheless the Bank of America will have collected subsidy for all the tickets irrespective of whether they have been used or not.

The toll-reduction scheme cobbled together by the government is not cheap. The Scottish Office will subsidise the Bank of America with 750,000 of tax-payers money each year for up to 25 years, in other words by about 15m. This has infuriated SKAT vice-convener, Alasdair Maclean. "Already the Skye Bridge project has been roundly condemned by the Public Accounts Committee for the way in which it allowed the developer to make excessive profits and this fudge of a toll-reduction scheme simply pumps a further 15m of tax-payers money into the Bank of America. Bear in mind that the Skye Bridge has already been funded by the tax-payer to the tune of 14.6m. If it had been built by the public sector rather than as a PFI this 29.6m of our money could have provided two bridges across the Kyle!"

Alasdair Maclean was also critical of the government for allowing the Bank of America the luxury of dictating the mechanics of the toll-reduction scheme. "When questioned about the scheme last week the Scottish Office could provide few answers - instead the Bank of America will dictate to us and the Government exactly how this subsidy will be used."

SKAT is also saddened that the Labour Government which had campaigned in the Highlands and Islands before the election on the promise of "abolishing tolls within the shortest time practicable" feel that they have fulfilled their pledges to the people by introducing toll reductions. The scheme is clearly flawed. The developer, which has already made obscene profits from the building of the Skye Bridge, will benefit most. Crucially it does not address the fundamental problem that people in a remote rural area, already suffering some of the highest prices for commodities in Britain, are continuing to pay dearly for a ideologically-driven project which the tax-payer has already paid for.

Contact:- Alasdair Maclean 01470 521488

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Copyright Ray Shields, 1997.

Most recent revision, 13 March 1998