Press Release 23 November 1997

Shooglie Pegs in St. Andrew’s House and Donald Whaur’s Yer Concession??

In the light of Labour MP Anne Begg describing the Skye Bridge funding arrangements as a "mess" and her call on Donald Dewar to "sort it out" SKAT are demanding immediate clarification of the Government’s policy on this issue. Miss Begg made these comments on BBC Scotland during a programme in which the reaction of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to the bridge’s funding arrangements was raised.

The PAC met last week to discuss the Skye Bridge project, the flag-ship of the previous administration’s discredited Private Finance Initiative (PFI). There was general condemnation of the funding arrangements by members of the committee. Comments such as "the developers laughing all the way to the bank", "rank carelessness", "horrendous cost overrun", "licence to print money", "sloppiness" and "smugness" were used by members to describe this sorry affair. The "old boy network" of the Scottish Office also came in for criticism.

Miss Begg’s comments were made in the context of the PAC’s condemnation of the scheme. SKAT wonders whether Miss Begg’s public acceptance that the Skye Bridge project is badly flawed and requires to be rectified represents yet another change of heart by the Government over the issue. Before the general election Labour campaigned on a policy of abolishing tolls as soon as practicable. But immediately after the election we were told that abolition of tolls was no longer an option. As a sop to regular bridge users Donald Dewar promised to introduce, by October 1997, a concessionary toll. (Some concession - the reduced toll will still be twice as dear the full toll charges on every other bridge in the land!) In any case, the much-trailed concession has not materialised.

SKAT are calling for clarification of the affair now. As tax-payers we also demand that immediate action be taken to discipline those in the Scottish Office whose work was so roundly criticised by members of the Public Accounts Committee. If there aren’t any shooglie pegs in the cloakrooms of St. Andrew’s House, there certainly should be!

Meanwhile at the Skye bridge itself an anti-tolls protester is holding a vigil until such time as the toll-collectors can produce documentation authorising them to charge tolls on the public highway.

Robbie the Pict has already been ‘living’ in his vehicle beside the toll-booth for over 24 hours and fully intends to remain there as long as it takes to force the authorities to produce the required documentation. He claims that as a very minimum a notice announcing the start of the so-called toll-period and another confirming the assignation of the right to collect tolls and identifying the concessionaire by name will have to be produced. He also asserts that the Crown conceded in the High Court last week that such documentation was necessary before tolls could be collected by Miller Civil Engineering.

Bridge staff say that they will produce the required authorities and consent tomorrow (Monday) and so it is with eager anticipation that Robbie the Pict will ‘bed down’ for the night beside the toll booths.

Asked how comfortable he was sleeping in a car next to the toll booth Robbie answered "I have been in more salubrious circumstances but things have been made much more tolerable by the kindness shown by sympathetic islanders. For example one hotelier arrived at half past midnight with extra blankets and various forms of sustenance."

Protesters will converge on the bridge to when, ‘High Noon’-like, the documentation is produced by the Bridge company or alternatively…..

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

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Copyright Ray Shields, 1997.

Most recent revision, 13 March 1998