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Scottish Office slammed over Skye bridge - again

LIBERAL DEMOCRAT MP Charles Kennedy this week demanded that heads at the Scottish Office should roll, following publication of yet another damning report on funding for Skye bridge.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report said Scottish Office officials behind the private finance construction deal almost a decade ago failed to consider the £1M a year lost to taxpayers when the subsidised ferry service stopped. This loss, plus other government payments, doubled the £18M expected cost.

Officials also neglected to consider transport options and negotiated financial contracts directly with the operator without competition, the report concluded. This was described as a 'serious omission' by committee chairman David Davis.

Davis claimed he was not satisfied that the costs of the bridge had been reasonable. 'We expect government departments and agencies to learn from the Skye bridge case.'

The report also criticised the position of operator Skye Bridge, now three years into a maximum 27 year concession, as a 'monopoly provider of an essential public service'. The company, a joint venture of Miller Civil Engineering, prestressing specialist Dywidag and the Bank of America, is expected to recoup total construction costs well within its concession period and could hand back the 2.4km crossing to the Scottish Office by 2009.

A Scottish Office spokesman said that criticism referred to the previous government's approach to private finance initiatives. 'The bridge is providing an excellent all weather link far earlier than would have been possible through public funding,' he said.

David Hayward

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