A mountain of evidence was considered during nearly 200 hours of detailed parliamentary scrutiny of the Edinburgh tram and Edinburgh airport rail link schemes. The process of approval involved a vote of the whole Parliament. Both schemes also went through a full pre-expenditure appraisal process and will have been subject to gateway assessments prior to the commitment of funds.
Even if the minister believes that Parliament's previous decisions were incorrect, he cannot overturn decisions without parliamentary approval. To persuade us, he needs to demonstrate that his alternative proposals would deliver significantly better outcomes in meeting the key objectives of transport policies that have not shifted markedly under the new Administration. In the case of the tram scheme, which is well advanced, delay or cancellation would result in the waste of more than £100 million of public money. The minister needs to show that the wasted expenditure that would result from cancellation would be outweighed by the benefits of his preferred alternative.
"guided busways on much of the tram alignment between Edinburgh airport and Haymarket; incentives for the use of hybrid fuel buses ... incentives to improve through-ticketing; real-time information at all Edinburgh bus stops; completion of the planned park-and-ride sites around the city ... and further bus-priority measures on the routes that are to be served by those park-and-ride facilities."—[Official Report, 31 May 2007; c 320-1.]
We have seen no costings, no business case and no evaluation. From the evidence that was taken previously, we know that we could expect longer journey times and more buses clogging up Princes Street.
Back in 2001, Kenny MacAskill slated guided busways as the technology not of the 21st century but of the latter part of the 20th century. In his earlier, visionary incarnation, Mr MacAskill argued:
"the route ahead for the City of Edinburgh is a light rail network ... It will be the basis upon which Edinburgh can grow and flourish."
How disappointing that the new Mr MacAskill—the sad, unambitious Mr MacAskill—no longer wants Edinburgh to have the public transport networks that are taken for granted in other European capitals such as Copenhagen, Helsinki and Dublin.
That is the SNP's view of trams. What does it think about EARL? In 2002, the same Mr MacAskill said:
"We need a commitment to build the rail link, which would be a fundamental factor not just in growing Edinburgh airport and the economy of the city of Edinburgh, but in boosting the economy of the whole of Scotland in the 21st century."—[Official Report, 28 February 2002; c 9887.]
However, what do we have from the SNP? Instead of a central Scotland rail interchange that would connect Fife to Glasgow and connect 62 different stations to the airport, ministers now favour a limited loop that would necessitate passengers on the main line from Glasgow disembarking a distance away from the airport and travelling to it on a coach or shuttle.
We have heard from Mr Swinney and Mr Stevenson that their primary interest is in preventing cost overruns and ensuring value for money. However, the detailed option appraisal exercise that was carried out for EARL by transport specialists Sinclair Knight Merz, which informed the parliamentary scrutiny process, recommended as offering best value for money the scheme that was subsequently approved by Parliament. As our motion makes clear, the responsibility for delivery of that best value for money scheme lies with ministers.
Ministers have under their control Transport Scotland, which was set up as a body with the engineering and other specialist skills that are needed to ensure effective procurement and delivery of major infrastructure projects. If ministers genuinely wanted further assurances about value for money and potential cost overruns, they could have asked Transport Scotland, as the body with the relevant expertise, to publish the benefit cost ratio for each project or to re-examine costings across the full range of current transport projects and to compile a prioritised list. They could have done that, but they did not. Audit Scotland has been asked to examine only the approach to financial and risk management of the two projects that Mr Salmond and Mr MacAskill want cancelled.
Last week, John Swinney took great offence at any suggestion that an SNP Administration would take arbitrary decisions. As we have seen, there are various definitions of the word arbitrary. However, let us be clear about the fact that the selection of the two projects that we are debating is bluntly and blatantly party political. Presumably, ministers hope that Audit Scotland will provide some evidence or finding that will help to justify the decisions that the SNP desperately wants to make. However, the cloak of Audit Scotland involvement cannot mask the fact that, for now, the SNP is defying not just previous decisions of Parliament but the majority view of members of Parliament in the current session.
I want to be clear about what our motion and the amendments would do. The Conservative amendment would require a debate to take place in the Government's own time—under the terms of the amendment, that could be delayed beyond the summer. The SNP amendment would require only a statement—not a debate—before the recess. Each week without a decision that is ratified by the Parliament means that costs—especially of the tram scheme—rack up and momentum is lost. The collapse of the tram scheme—for which contracts have already been let, but which has been put on hold this week as a result of the review—would have a devastating impact on the construction industry's confidence in public projects in Scotland. It would also have significant broader influence on confidence in the Parliament's commitment to deliver sustainable public transport in Scotland.
The Government should be made to act consistently by the Parliament, and should act on the basis of the outcomes of proper benefit cost analysis, not political prejudice. Those who want to prevent ministers reversing parliamentary decisions without recourse to Parliament, those who take seriously the arguments for sustainable public transport and, above all, those who are concerned about the effects of further delays on the Edinburgh tram project, in particular, should support the motion that I am pleased to have lodged.
That the Parliament believes that Scottish Executive ministers should respect decisions of this Parliament and, in keeping with that key principle, believes that ministers should not delay, substantially alter or cancel strategic transport projects, such as the Edinburgh Tram and Edinburgh Airport Rail Link schemes that have already been subject to parliamentary scrutiny and approval; further believes that any proposed departure from those agreed parliamentary consents should also be subject to parliamentary approval; notes the urgency given that considerable expenditure has already been committed on these schemes, and re-affirms that ministers bear the responsibility for the effective procurement and delivery of major infrastructure projects.
We are accountable to Parliament and, of course, to the people of Scotland. The only way in which we can maintain the trust of the electorate is by ensuring that Parliament is answerable to the people of Scotland.
Government is responsible and accountable for the value of the money that it spends. Scottish taxpayers expect us to take that seriously and to take a hard look at the major spending programmes that we have inherited.
I note the minister's comments about taxpayers' money. Mr Swinney is quoted as saying that his priority
"is to protect the Scottish taxpayer and ensure that any major transport project is value for money".
Can the minister confirm that that statement is a true reflection of the Executive's priorities and that the intention to review the finances of transport projects is not limited to public transport? For example, will he give a commitment to review the finances of the M74 northern extension in Glasgow, which is already experiencing delays and cost increases, and of other road projects, such as the Aberdeen western peripheral route?
I trust that I will not damage Mr Patrick Harvie's prospects of becoming convener of the transport, infrastructure and climate change committee if I indicate that I look forward to working with him. I note that he has said today that
"Transport and infrastructure decisions will determine whether Scotland succeeds in tackling climate change."
It is important that we have a balanced approach. We are determined that overall we will make decisions that tackle climate change. We are examining all the commitments that we have inherited. Our priority is to protect the Scottish taxpayer by ensuring that all major transport projects deliver value for money. It is quite simple: we must build on solid foundations.
I will do so a wee bit later.
It is normal, natural and necessary to review projects. It is normal practice for all good clients to
The important points about the two projects have been made: they are the biggest projects, they are running and we need to make decisions about them quickly. It is necessary to review projects. There are good examples of project delivery in Scotland but, sadly, not every project runs well. In March 2006, the Parliament heard that the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway would open in summer 2007 and would cost between £65 million and £70 million.
I have only six minutes. I have taken two interventions and I will take no more.
Within days of taking office, we were told that the cost of the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway had risen to £83 million. Against the background of the rising costs of that project, we needed to check the rest of the major public transport projects, starting with the two largest: the tram project and EARL.
We are pleased that the Auditor General for Scotland has accepted our invitation—I stress "invitation", because he is independent and we cannot instruct him—to review the procedures that were used to forecast costs for the proposed Edinburgh tram and airport rail link projects.
We issued that invitation precisely so that the necessary objectivity would be brought to the projects. Audit Scotland will report by 20 June and the findings shall be published. The report will form part of the review of major public transport projects that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth
We are not in the business of taking arbitrary decisions. It is normal, natural and necessary to review projects at key stages in their development. It is even more normal, natural and necessary to review projects that have been inherited from a previous Administration—as the previous Administration did. Last week, we accepted an amendment that called on us not to make decisions arbitrarily, but this week the Opposition has called on us to make decisions in precisely that way—[Interruption.] We are acting responsibly, which is why we invited the Auditor General for Scotland to report on EARL and the trams. We are considering value for money objectively. We will take decisions in the interests of the Scottish taxpayer and involve the Parliament in the process.
I move amendment S3M-127.3, to leave out from first "believes" to end and insert:
"recognises the different policy positions of various political parties; notes that the Scottish Government has invited the Auditor General to consider the approach to financial and risk management taken in the preparation of the Edinburgh Tram and Edinburgh Airport Rail Link proposals, and welcomes the fact that ministers will report to the Parliament on this matter before the summer recess."
The Conservative party supports the concept of sustainable public transport and the two projects that are mentioned in the Labour motion. We understand the importance of public transport to structured, long-term transport policy. However, as we have said many times, there can be no blank cheques. The Conservatives will always be concerned about the cost of projects, the danger that they might overrun and the potentially huge impact on other priorities of the Government and the Parliament. Therefore, the Conservatives will always be fiscally responsible.
I am sorry, but I have only four minutes and I have a lot to get through.
Much has been said about the process of parliamentary democracy. The suggestion that it should not be possible for a Government to review the decisions of previous Governments was contained in the amendment that we debated
I am sorry, but I simply do not have time—[ Interruption. ] I have only four minutes and I need to get through my speech.
It is important that the Parliament takes decisions on such matters, but it is also important that the decisions are properly informed, therefore the Conservatives welcome the fact that Audit Scotland has been asked to consider the projects and report back to the Parliament before the summer recess. I am pleased that that concession has been made, but I hope that in his closing speech the minister will confirm that there will be a debate on the projects before the summer recess.
In last Thursday's debate on bridge tolls, we heard a great deal about the need to prioritise spending, and potentially we will hear more about that in this debate. I was pleased that in last week's debate the Parliament united around an amended motion that asked for transport projects to be prioritised and evaluated in the long term. The process that has been set out today satisfies that demand.
We agree with the Executive amendment and will support it at decision time, but it would be much easier for us to do so if the Executive fully explained the extent to which it concedes the point that we make in our amendment and if it accepted my additional request that the debate must take place before the summer recess. It is important that clarification is given.
Conservatives are fiscally responsible and think that the Parliament should have the opportunity to make decisions practically, properly and from a basis of being fully informed. We will not accept the principle that all Governments are tied by the decisions of previous Governments. We support sustainable public transport and believe in the projects, but there should be no blank cheques. We want to see the facts and make decisions constructively and positively. This debate is therefore somewhat premature.
I move, as an amendment to amendment S3M-127.3, amendment S3M-127.3.1, to insert at end:
"and calls on the Scottish Executive to bring forward a motion for parliamentary debate within its own time on these issues."
Of course no Government is tied by the previous Government—Mr Johnstone is right to say so. That is why Mr Stevenson should review all the transport projects and not just two of them, as he would do if the amendment in his name or his position on transport were in any way credible.
As for Mr Stevenson's roads policy, he had better look at the answer that he has signed off to a recent parliamentary question on roads, which I suspect contradicts his response to Patrick Harvie's intervention. Mr Stevenson said that he will review every roads project. Charlie Gordon, who I cannot see in the chamber, asked a parliamentary question about the M74. The minister has just said that he will review that project. I hope that he will confirm that in his closing speech. I hope that Mr Gordon and other members for Glasgow, including my colleague Robert Brown, have heard that.
The Tories will prop up the Government today, so let us be clear about what the Tories are doing. They appear to be a bit lukewarm about the trams and EARL. They do not really support them. However, they believe that the Government should tell the Auditor General for Scotland what to do. That is the Tory position.
The Tories' position shows Mr David Cameron's green credentials for what they are: fraudulent and opportunistic. The Parliament and the public will clearly see what the Tories are truly like. In last week's debate, the Tories did not mention trams or EARL, because they do not care about those projects at all. My party cares about those projects, as does the Labour Party. The Greens used to care about them, but goodness knows what the Greens believe now. I saw Stewart Stevenson cuddling up to Patrick Harvie. Mr Stevenson might come to rue the day.
Mr Stevenson and the First Minister, Mr Salmond, are here, as is Mr Swinney. In the past week, each of them has stated—on the record and as ministers, with everything that that entails and everything that goes with their positions of office—that the Edinburgh trams and EARL projects have cost overruns. Last week, I challenged Mr Swinney to come up with any evidence for that whatever, and not one jot of evidence has been published.
Mr Scott knows full well that the cost estimates that I have in front of me represent a difference from where the two projects started out. I have other evidence, which Mr Stevenson has mentioned, relating to the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line. I would be utterly irresponsible if I did not reflect on the costs of those projects, to protect the taxpayers of Scotland.
I would have considerable sympathy for the views of the cabinet secretary, Mr Swinney, and of the First Minister, Mr Salmond, who is speaking from a sedentary position, if they published all the information, not just the information on the Edinburgh trams and EARL projects. The decision that is being made is a political one, and the Government is trying to find the evidence to support it.
Does the member agree that it is utterly irresponsible of the minister to claim, as he has done today, that the Auditor General is examining value for money? The Government knows that the Auditor General will confirm that value for money is not part of his remit. It is dishonest to pretend that it is. It is an attempt to politicise the Auditor General, which is wrong—
Indeed. Another important point about the Auditor General relates to what the SNP spin doctor said in The Scotsman yesterday. It reported that
"A spokesman for Alex Salmond" stated
"we want to bring order, rigour and robustness to the decision-making process."
The spokesman said that it would therefore be important to introduce the Auditor General. The report continued:
"However, when asked about whether there was any evidence of cost overruns, he"— that is, the SNP spin doctor, whom we are told is now on £100,000 a year—
"said this was for the review to investigate."
As for Mr Swinney's line that the information is all available, it appears that the Government is using the forthcoming review to cover up for the fact that it has no information whatever to justify its decisions.
There appears to be a new definition of consensus in the Parliament. If the Tories agree
I move amendment S3M-127.2, to insert at end:
"and notes with concern the decision to involve Audit Scotland in reviewing the Edinburgh Trams and Edinburgh Airport Rail Link projects, particularly given the short timescale in which Audit Scotland is to undertake the review, the lack of detail provided to the Parliament on the terms of reference for the review and the possible implications for the independence of Audit Scotland."
I must be a real masochist—this is my third maiden speech. I made my first about 28 years ago, and there are a lot of striking parallels. Then, I was a surprising victor. Then, a Labour Government lost office. It had better stop there—I spent 18 years in Opposition, and I do not think that I could stand that again.
Wait for it. I am coming to his lot later.
I am really proud to be a member of the Scottish Parliament, for which I campaigned for more than three decades. I would have stood in 1999, but I was busy helping to set up the new Department for International Development. I am proud that, under a Labour Government, that department has doubled aid to the third world. I am also proud to represent this city and this region, which I love so much. I served this city on the old Edinburgh Corporation, as a councillor and a bailie, and I also chaired Lothian Regional Council education committee. It is great to be back.
I recognise that the Scottish Parliament is very different from the House of Commons and the House of Lords. I am going through a conversion. I hope that it is not too immodest to say that I think that I am doing so rather more effectively than Alex Salmond—for all his rhetoric about consensus. Someone told me that, at the Muslim community dinner in Renfrew last Sunday, Alex Salmond spent almost all his speech making an intemperate attack on the Labour Government. It is about time that our First Minister recognised that he is now leading a devolved Government, not a protest movement. In relation to his answer at First Minister's question time last week, Alex Salmond
There has been talk of parliamentary arrangements called confidence and supply. Although it would be unwise of Opposition parties to seek an early vote of no confidence, it is perfectly proper for us to deny supply if we disagree with the purpose of it, and I hope that we will do so.
That brings me to the Edinburgh trams and EARL schemes. My strong predisposition is to support the trams, for the environmental and other reasons that were outlined so well by Des McNulty, although I am ready to listen to the other side of the argument—I am converted to the spirit of Holyrood. However, it is a pity that the Executive has embarked upon such an anti-Edinburgh agenda in transport, led by Edinburgh East and Musselburgh MSP Kenny MacAskill, who is like a kamikaze pilot—kamikaze Kenny. We know what happens to kamikaze pilots.
I was pleased to read that my old friend, Chris Harvie, is sticking to his principles. He will not be dragooned in a Pavlovian way into scrapping the trams. I hope that Ian McKee and other Lothians members will also have the courage to stand up for the area that they represent. The EARL project will benefit not just Lothian, but many towns and cities. It will link 62 stations directly to Edinburgh airport. Many members ought to think carefully before abandoning the project.
I look forward to joining Mary Mulligan, Sarah Boyack, Malcolm Chisholm, Rhona Brankin and, indeed, Margo MacDonald in fighting for our region and our capital city over the next four years and for many more years to come, first in opposition, but then, I hope before long, in government.
I congratulate George Foulkes on making his third maiden speech. He did not tell Parliament about some of his other antecedents in the north-east. Like him, I am a former pupil of Keith grammar school. We are not the only ones—Maureen Watt is also a former pupil.
We might think that the Labour Party, or at least Des McNulty, has an obsession with Edinburgh transportation, given that at his behest we have within less than a week debated trams and EARL. He is more than welcome to that, but perhaps—given his successful amendment last week—Des McNulty ought to be satisfied with the outcome. Last week, we gave him precisely what he asked for but, this week, he has come back to ask for something a little different. Last week, Des McNulty asked us not to do things "arbitrarily". As
Perhaps Brian Adam should read today's motion. The key question that it raises is whether or not—after we have read the Audit Scotland report and heard the results of anything else that the Executive wants to do in the next two to three weeks—the SNP will follow the will of Parliament. What does Brian Adam think about that? Will he ask his minister to respond to that key point in his winding-up speech?
If that is what the member wants, I will leave it to the minister to respond to that in winding up. Although the needs of Edinburgh and its public transport are undoubtedly important, not just to the city but to the surrounding area and to Scotland, the rest of Scotland also has public transport needs.
I ask the member to let me develop the point. I would be interested to know the views of members who represent Glasgow, who have a particular interest in the crossrail scheme there, as well as those of members who represent North East Scotland. We have here in the chamber the previous chairperson of the north-east Scotland transport partnership—NESTRANS—which has ambitions to set up an Aberdeen crossrail scheme.
There are implications for public transportation across the board. As Mr Stevenson was right to point out, the financial commitment is major and we need to consider the overall budget to ensure that all Scotland's public transport needs are taken care of.
The member referred to links for Edinburgh and the Lothians before he developed his point about other transport issues. Am I correct in thinking that if EARL is cancelled, connections to Edinburgh airport from Stirling, Ochil and the rest of Fife will be lost? Does he join me in suggesting that the new members for Stirling, Ochil and Central Fife should think carefully before
No one in the SNP wishes to deny people a connection to Edinburgh airport; at issue is the type of connection. As a direct consequence of the EARL project, my constituents in Aberdeen North will be on the slow train to Edinburgh airport. Significant financial constraints also relate directly to the type of project that is under consideration.
I commend the Government's approach. To look closely at finances in the context of a sustainable public transport system is precisely what any responsible Government would do. That is normal and acceptable—I hope that Parliament will agree to it later.
The Scottish Green Party believes that we should base transport policy on tackling climate change, ensuring financial prudence and meeting passengers' needs. We note that although the Edinburgh tram project clearly meets all three of those principles, the Edinburgh airport rail link would encourage short-haul flying, be massively expensive for no noticeable return on investment and serve a route that a bus link and the planned trams would cover well.
Given what is happening outside here at the G8 summit and in all the discussions on how to tackle climate change worldwide, it is bizarre that we have a project that is designed to assist in trebling the movement of aircraft in and out of Edinburgh airport in the next 10 to 20 years, whereas on a full-life costing, another project's lifelong contribution to reducing the effects of carbon dioxide on global warming would prove to be incredibly advantageous as we rolled out renewable electricity throughout Scotland and linked that to an electrically driven tram system in Edinburgh. The tram system would be two to three times more efficient than buses on the routes that it would serve—research backs that. It would be popular with older people, young people and disabled people.
I will take no interventions yet.
TIE has no fears about a report on the tram project's financial projections, but on any reasonable carbon costing of EARL, it may fail—as the Green party feels it should.
Sustainable public transport systems that meet the needs of communities and businesses are essential for Scotland's economic development. We acknowledge the case for the Edinburgh tram scheme, which is supported by Scotland's
We also acknowledge that significant environmental, technical and financial problems are associated with other transport infrastructure projects, such as the M74 extension, which is why Patrick Harvie intervened on the minister. A short review process would be acceptable to resolve those issues. Consequently, we will support the SNP's amendment—
Does the Green party believe that, following the review, the ultimate decision should be taken by a vote in Parliament? As my colleague Malcolm Chisholm said, the decision should be made here. We should have not a ministerial statement but a debate and a vote, by which Parliament's will can be determined. Does the member support that?
Absolutely—we support the supremacy of Parliament and the idea that the decision should come to Parliament. However, that does not preclude us from backing the SNP's amendment. It is perfectly proper and sensible to consider the two projects' costs. We have said that we would prefer the review to go further, but we will support the SNP amendment at 5 o'clock.
The proposition that Parliament cannot bind its successors is a key principle of our constitution. Although the famous 19 th century jurist Professor Albert Dicey enunciated it in relation to Scotland's other Parliament, at Westminster, we should embrace the principle whole-heartedly in this Parliament for the matters for which we are responsible. It is a sound constitutional principle that I thought the Labour Party had embraced, although we would not think so from the dog's breakfast of a motion that that party has lodged, which is more Losealot than Winalot and gives clear evidence of its civil-service withdrawal symptoms.
When incoming Labour Governments have repealed legislation that Conservative Governments passed, we have heard nothing from the Labour Party about the so-called key principle
I have no objection to a wide-ranging review of projects. It is unfortunate that when Mr Scott was responsible for transport, he failed time and again to prioritise major projects. That major error is coming to light because of the emergent need for a new Forth crossing.
The proposition that the incoming Executive should be able to review its predecessor's spending commitments is perfectly reasonable, particularly given the scale of public expenditure on the trams and EARL. The cost of tramlines 1 and 2 is often quoted at £592 million, but when another £17 million of parliamentary costs are taken into account, the cost is £609 million.
No, thank you.
EARL is likely to have a £700 million price tag. As we said repeatedly in debates on the projects, they were both conceived before the need had emerged for a new Forth crossing, whose cost is likely to dwarf that of the two other projects together.
The Parliament starts its business every week with time for reflection. The Scottish Executive asks us to support the proposition that the independent Auditor General should bring his expertise to bear in examining the robustness of the business cases that were presented to Parliament, which I hope will cover not just the capital costs of construction but operational costs. We are content to await publication of the Auditor General's report in a couple of weeks—we welcome the fact that the matter will be publicised and we would like the report to be debated in Parliament before the summer recess. I hope that a commitment will be made to that.
As the debate and their public statements have shown, Labour and the Liberal Democrats want us to sign a blank cheque for trams and EARL, which
The SNP Government has inherited a far-from-strategic public transport strategy for Edinburgh, let alone the rest of Scotland, and we should dig into what we have inherited. The idea of the motion is that we should accept that TIE's approach is the only way to build transport infrastructure around Edinburgh. Perhaps the majority of MSPs voted for the proposals that are in front of us, but there is a lot of logic in reconsidering their value. Given that we could have got an airport link for about a third of the price that we are being asked to pay, without building a tunnel that goes into a canyon underneath a live airport runway, it must make some sense to audit the present proposals.
I am not taking any interventions just now.
EARL was not the only way to provide a link, and Audit Scotland's methodology will be able to dig into that. In the past, ministers have used the Scottish transport appraisal guidance to arrive at a cost benefit ratio. We must be able to apply that approach throughout Scotland, but the problem with the EARL proposal is that people who wanted it to be built sought support throughout Scotland by saying that it would provide a link to the airport for all Scotland but did not say that there were better ways of doing that. As my colleague Brian Adam said, there are better ways of ensuring investment for the many other parts of Scotland that have been denied it by that central-belt approach. It is not anti-Edinburgh to say that we could, while achieving value for money, have developed many more projects throughout the rest of Scotland at the same time. That is what the Government has inherited.
I turn to trams. I was on the Edinburgh Tram (Line One) Bill Committee and I can see that the outcome has failed the less well-off area of Pilton.
The tramline 1 plan has failed to integrate Ravelston and to stop it becoming a rat run and it has failed to approach the Western
Tramline 3 would have ensured a tram system in which people could believe, but we are left with a system that was cut up into small sections as it became more and more expensive.
The SNP championed the improvement of Waverley station and of access to it. Let us compare the strategy with those in other countries, such as Ireland, under which new routes have been built. Ireland set up anti-congestion measures, freed up routes for commuters and built a link to Shannon airport, but that was done through an integrated programme that did not pick two prestige projects and end up with the rest of the country being left in the cold.
In this parliamentary session, transport must become an all-Scotland issue, so I am delighted that the First Minister has said that this is a Government for the whole of Scotland. Des McNulty's motion harps on about failed prestige projects without looking at the total picture, which the previous Administration also ignored. I am glad to say that John Swinney will be able to bring to us some idea of the value for money that we could get to enable us to start investing money fairly throughout the country. As far as I am concerned, we have never created a proper strategy in Scotland. This is the first chance for us to do so.
I welcome the chance to speak in this important debate. I congratulate Stewart Stevenson on his role, although I am sorely tempted to say that I would rather have Chris Harvie in the post right now, given his background and his view that trams are vital to the central belt.
Rob Gibson has just given us a tirade about failure, but I have to say that he failed the people of west Edinburgh by voting for something with which he clearly did not agree and that he clearly did not scrutinise properly. He had a job to do, as did the other members of Parliament's private bill committees. However, in Rob Gibson's comments, the people of Edinburgh and Scotland can see exactly what is going on: it is about the SNP taking funding away from Edinburgh and supposedly distributing it fairly, as he has just said, throughout the country.
Members who followed the tram scheme's progress through Parliament over the past few years know that I have been a critical friend, rather than an unquestioning supporter, of the project. I have questioned the route of the trams and have had amendments included in the bill. However, I believe that, in the end, the trams and EARL represent the best way forward for Edinburgh. That does not mean that we should approach the project with a blank cheque. The reality is, and always was, that the Executive and the City of Edinburgh Council still have to give the go-ahead for the full business case on the back of the final tenders that are received. That would mean Transport Scotland doing its job and ministers doing theirs—which is to ensure that projects such as the trams continue to come in on budget and on time.
I have some issues with the announcement of a review by Audit Scotland, because to some extent it calls Audit Scotland's independence into question. That is certainly the impression that the Auditor General himself has given me in the past. In response to a question from me on real-time evaluation of the tram and EARL projects, Mr Black said at an Audit Committee meeting in February:
"I would not want to step into it without reaching a well-informed understanding with the Scottish ministers and the Executive, and the Parliament, about an appropriate role for Audit Scotland in such matters."
He went on to say that his consideration of the Parliament building project
"was probably an exceptional case and we are certainly not resourced to carry out such work for other major capital schemes. We must consider carefully the proper accountabilities of the Executive versus those of the audit process."
He then said:
"I am reluctant to get into real-time evaluations. We are not resourced to do so, and doing so would confuse accountabilities."—[Official Report, Audit Committee, 13 February 2007; c 2026-2027.]
I also question the Auditor General's acceptance of a remit that allows him only a matter of days to scrutinise such important schemes, which have previously been scrutinised by three parliamentary committees that spent many years considering them in detail.
I do not have time to cover all the reasons why the two Edinburgh projects should be pursued. However, the Dublin experience is that, at weekends, almost 50 per cent of people who previously travelled into the city centre by car choose instead to take the tram. Worldwide, 50 countries operate more than 400 tram and light rail systems and another 120 are under construction. We have spent eight years being given geography lessons by the SNP, usually along the lines of how
The SNP tells us to get on the bus instead, but that is not what it said in the past. In 2000, Kenny MacAskill said that trams were the basis upon which Edinburgh could grow and flourish. Chris Harvie, writing only last month on the Scottish futures website, said:
"The 'cheap and cheerful' bus isn't in itself a solution ... There are limitations to the bus ..." and he continued by saying that trams are
"timetabled, fast, segregated, predictable ... Trams last, which justifies their cost."
Alex Salmond told us last week that the Government does not have to be bound by Parliament. He may be right by the rule book, but he is morally wrong. The SNP has no democratic mandate to scrap the tram and airport rail link projects, both of which Parliament scrutinised. If it ignores the voice of the Parliament, it ignores the voice of the people of Scotland.
I speak as a representative not of north-east Scotland but of that other great SNP stronghold: central Scotland.
It can hardly come as a surprise to our colleagues—although it seems to—that our new SNP Government has serious concerns about the Edinburgh tram and EARL projects. After all, those concerns were clearly and prominently featured in the SNP campaign message in the recent election. The Labour Party might want to remember that election—it is the one that it lost. It seems more than a little disingenuous for the Labour Party to display such righteous indignation now that our new Government is pursuing the agenda that it put to the country.
Although I speak in support of our new Government, I am also a great supporter of investment in our rail infrastructure. I believe that one of the greatest misfortunes to befall our country was the savage Beeching cuts to our railways in the 1960s—I point out that they occurred way before I was even conceived of—the effects of which are felt to this day. However, that is not to say that I support all projects blindly. For a project to receive my backing, it has to be right and proper for the country and for the area that it is proposed it will serve.
No. I have already said that I will not give way.
Des McNulty's motion seeks to make a virtue of the fact that £100 million of public money has already been spent on the Edinburgh trams project; he turns that into a reason to back it unswervingly. I suggest that such enormous investment without a single piece of track's having been laid is a serious cause for concern. Why does the former Administration support such an expensive rail link to Edinburgh airport? We can all accept the benefits to Edinburgh and Scotland of a rail link to the airport, but why are the Labour group and others determined about the need for a tunnel?
No, I will not.
Why not support an overground rail link? Is a new type of tunnel fetishism emerging?
I support fully the Government's decision to call on the Auditor General to review the projects. As my colleague Brian Adam did, I note Labour's lack of comment and, perhaps, concern about other vital transport projects for Scotland, many of which would affect central Scotland. Where is its concern for the electrification of the main line between Glasgow and Edinburgh? It is an embarrassment to Scotland that only roughly a quarter of our railways are electrified and it is a scandal that the line between our two main cities is not electrified.
Where has the Labour Party been in relation to the need for an improved car park for Croy train station? Although Wendy Alexander, the then transport minister, promised it in 2002, not a single brick has been laid. I am sure that the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change will join me in welcoming the assurances that I have received from Strathclyde Partnership for Transport that that vital project will—at long last—go ahead.
Where are the calls from Labour for vital road projects in Lanarkshire? We urgently need the Raith interchange. In Falkirk, people are crying out for improvements at Avon Gorge, which have been called for for many years. Nevertheless, today the Labour Party is insisting on the pursuit of projects that cost millions more than is necessary and are of limited benefit and use to us. That might just come back to haunt it—I hope that it does.
I thank the Labour Party for using its debating time to explore this issue further. As Brian Adam rightly pointed out, it is about more than Edinburgh, which is why a strategic transport project review would be the objective way forward. To single out two projects is just not fair.
We heard from the Green party that the use of global footprinting to measure our impact on the environment is gaining support. The north-east of Scotland has been taking part in a three-year pilot project with the WWF to measure its footprint, the results of which were announced at an event in my home town of Ellon a few months ago.
We are taking far more than our fair share of the world's resources. If everyone in the world consumed resources at the rate at which we in Scotland do, we would need three planets to support us. However, none of the people who attended that event was down heartened by the results; those people were galvanised by it and are determined to tackle some of the issues that contribute to that big footprint. Local schemes that involve the whole community are now being developed in Ellon and Huntly. It is commendable that the people at the event did not say that the problem is too big for us to do anything about, but I am clear that they expect us here in Parliament also to pay heed to it and to face the fact that a three-planet lifestyle is not sustainable We can work on three main areas to shrink our footprint: energy use, food production and transport. Given that around 15 per cent of carbon emissions are land-transport related, we can make a difference: we can reduce the impact of transport. We know what the solutions are: faster trains, second-generation park and rides, new railways, trams and demand-responsive transport. There are lots of sustainable transport solutions, but they need consistent support and some certainty to make them a reality.
For decades, Scotland suffered because of a lack of vision, co-ordination and investment in transport, which the previous Government took bold steps to counter. During the previous session, there were radical changes to transport delivery, a step-change in how transport was planned for and a new optimism and growing ambition throughout Scotland as local authorities worked with other stakeholders to plan ahead. I thought that the SNP shared that ambition, given that its manifesto said, "let us build a more successful Scotland", "Let Scotland Flourish" and that it is time to move Scotland forward. However, we are not moving forward; the SNP is taking us backward to the old stop-start, will-we-won't-we school of transport planning, which I thought was a thing of the past.
The Liberal Democrats recognise that planning for a sustainable Scotland needs us all to work together. The Government, local councils, communities and the business sector should all have a voice. That is why I set such great store by the finalised national and regional strategies and the emerging local transport strategies, on all of which the key stakeholders were consulted less than a year ago.
Building an integrated transport system for Scotland will not happen overnight. Indeed, it cannot happen in one term of government—although, with an SNP Government it looks like plans can disappear overnight and for no good reason, other than to fund unsustainable promises that were made during the election.
Stewart Stevenson's amendment would lead to more cost, and to delay and uncertainty. He talked about accountability and balance, but there is nothing balanced about his approach. He said that he would start with the two biggest projects, so we can expect even more uncertainty.
The Tories' amendment is no better. They should be big enough to admit that they do not want the projects. "Mibbes aye, mibbes no"—where have the Tories been during all the hundreds of hours of committee scrutiny and debate in the previous session of Parliament?
We can have ambitious but costed and deliverable projects throughout Scotland, which join up the country, make us competitive in Europe, create new jobs and support tourism, or we can ditch them for uncosted, undeliverable daydreams of bullet trains and road-building schemes. It is clear what the majority view in the chamber is: the SNP must stop prevaricating and let the projects go ahead as planned.
We should congratulate the Labour Party on using its first debate in opposition to discuss this important subject. I hope that it has the opportunity to bring forward many more debates in opposition.
It is a pleasure to take part in the debate and it was a pleasure to listen to the remarks of Tavish Scott. During the election campaign, he was running round the country telling anybody who would listen that there was no point in supporting the Conservatives because we were not going to be in government and would have no influence; now his criticism seems to be that we have too much influence. Given that he said one thing before the election and now believes the complete opposite, we can conclude only that it is a fine apprenticeship for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats.
Alex Johnstone has spoken to our amendment and David McLetchie took to pieces the Labour motion. Let me have a look at the Liberal Democrat amendment. We are asked to note with concern the decision to involve Audit Scotland. Tavish Scott was quoted by the BBC as suggesting that it was "unprecedented" for ministers to ask Audit Scotland to carry out an inquiry
"purely to fix a political problem of their own making".
That did not concern him last year when he said that he would
"welcome an Audit Scotland investigation" into the tendering of ferry services between Gourock and Dunoon. He also said that last year's Audit Scotland report on transport which, among other things, looked at the tram project and the Edinburgh airport rail link, was "very fair". What exactly is the problem?
If Mr Scott is suggesting that ministers instructed the Auditor General, that is a serious allegation, because they do not have the power to do so. How can the SNP have instructed him?
I have some sympathy with the part of the Liberal Democrat amendment that says that the timescale that has been given to Audit Scotland to undertake the review is too short. However, only last week—and again today—the Liberal Democrats said that there should not be a delay. Given that the tram project is already behind schedule, it is a bit rich for them to be so concerned about a two-week delay, particularly one that arises because ministers are doing what the Liberal Democrats demanded last week and are bringing forward evidence on the costs of the two projects.
Is it not sensible to look at what the Auditor General says rather than pre-empt that? Maybe the reason why the projects have gone so over budget and been so delayed is that ministers did not look at the costs and
If everything is fine with the tram and EARL projects, what do their supporters have to fear? Last year, the former Minister for Transport was challenged, in relation to the tram project,
"to convince us that budgets are being managed effectively and that projects are being considered effectively."
Who issued that challenge? It was Des McNulty. What did the minister say in response? He said:
"quarterly reviews of project progress against cost and time targets have been established".—[Official Report, 16 March 2006; c 24058-59.]
If the process was as robust as Mr Scott seems to think, what is the problem with Audit Scotland looking at it? What problems are going to emerge? There is nothing to fear from a review of the projects if they are fine. That is the key point.
I will address one or two issues that arose in the debate. I will start by quoting the letter from Robert Black to Mr Swinney. It says:
"In response to your request".
Next, I will read from the terms of reference that the Auditor General issued yesterday. They say:
"The Auditor General has already made a commitment that Audit Scotland will undertake a review of major capital projects in Scotland in its current work programme. This project was strongly supported by the Parliament's Audit Committee when the Auditor General presented the forward work programme to them in February 2007. That project is currently being scoped and we expect to publish a report in spring 2008. The Auditor General has agreed to bring forward a more focused review of Edinburgh trams and EARL as part of the planned work, and that is the subject of this brief."
The issue of value for money arose a number of times during the debate. It is important that we understand what value for money means. It is not just about cost. It is about securing value for the expenditure. We cannot achieve that without the robust management of projects. It is precisely an investigation into the management of the projects—and the risk management in particular—that Audit Scotland will focus on.
Much has been made of the risks to the tram project. Let me gently point something out to
Some remarks have been made about buses clogging up Princes Street. There are no cars on Princes Street, but there are buses. Interestingly, in 1960, twice as many passengers were carried on buses in Edinburgh compared with today, yet Princes Street was not clogged with buses. Some of the symptoms that we require to address might have causes that are more complex than the simple-minded approach that has been taken so far.
I thank Tavish Scott for acknowledging that Governments are not tied by the decisions of previous Administrations. That is clear. Wendy Alexander suggested that we were looking at costs, but I have said "process and management". I welcome the fact that George Foulkes is prepared to listen.
I have very little time in this very short debate, for which the Labour Party is responsible.
Margaret Smith identified that we have further steps to take in the tram project. That is important. However, I simply come back to what the Government is doing. Our priority is to protect the Scottish taxpayer and ensure that major transport projects deliver value for money, real benefit to the travelling public and real benefit to the Scottish economy. I repeat—I have not yet heard anyone convincingly suggest that it should be otherwise—that it is normal, natural and necessary to review projects at key points. One such point is when an Administration has come into office and has to look at what it is faced with. We have to be absolutely sure about the calculation of costs of projects and to assess the risks before they progress further.
Audit Scotland will report by 20 June and we will make time available for a debate on what emerges from that. It would be arbitrary indeed to pre-empt the outcome of that process. The debate has been useful, but I hope that members will recognise that the Government has to take stock and involve the Parliament and wider Scotland in important decisions that will be made.
I do not know the precise origin of the saying, "You can run, but you can't hide," but it seems
So, where do we stand? The Auditor General is not going to make up the SNP's mind for it. Will the wishes of Parliament or those of the SNP's manifesto prevail? We are witnessing an unedifying power struggle within the SNP about the schemes. On one side, we have Alex "deep misgivings" Salmond, Kenny "trash the trams" MacAskill, and Stewart "costs out of control" Stevenson. On the other side, we have a public transport professor and his allies, who dare not speak out in the chamber. So much for the new politics.
Where is Mr Swinney? He is hoping that Mr Black will offer him deliverance so that he can come back to the Parliament and say, "Sorry—we just couldn't manage to deliver it on time or on budget." Mr Swinney is asking Transport Scotland to deliver a tunnel a mile long under the Forth but he cannot deliver a tunnel less than one twentieth of that length under the runway at Edinburgh airport. So much for an advert for leadership.
Will Wendy Alexander clarify the position? As I understand it, the tram project is at the stage of a draft final business case. My understanding of what the former Minister for Transport said in the Parliament is that final approval of the Scottish Executive's financial commitment depended on the content of the final business case. Is it still Labour's position that the project might not have been approved if the terms of the final business case were not satisfactory, or is Labour so in favour of the project that it would approve it irrespective of what the business case said?
Our position is that the Parliament decides and it is the Government's job to deliver on time and on budget. It is crazy to ask for a mile-long tunnel in one place but say that it is impossible to deliver one a twentieth of its length somewhere else.
Bob Black will doubtless suggest some management changes, as he always does, but he will not change the fundamentals of the scheme and he will not tell the SNP to cancel the projects, so the Government will have to decide what to do. Rhetoric is fine for opposition, but government is about responsibility. The SNP's internal power struggle is now costing the nation millions. It is racking up the bills—the costs of delay, dithering and indecision. If the SNP had the slightest
Will Wendy Alexander explain why it is unreasonable for this Government, which came into office just three weeks ago, to test the fundamentals of the projects to determine whether there is a need for change? Will she also explain what was unreasonable about the Labour Government dumping lots of things that the Conservative Government did because it did not agree with them and they did not represent good value for money?
I return to the point that the SNP is not telling us whether it wants to proceed with the schemes. It has to decide—it will either deliver them or not.
As I say, we have had "trash the trams" and "deep misgivings", but the SNP has provided not a shred of supporting evidence. A minister who promised efficiency savings is now racking up the bills of his prevarication. The Government owes us an explanation for the cash-burn rate of the delay. We estimate that the delays are now costing at least £3.5 million per month on trams and at least £1.5 million per month on EARL. That is £5 million a month down the drain of delay, but we have not had even a commitment to a debate and decision before the Parliament rises for the summer. Without a decision, we will be looking at £15 million of additional cost through delay from a Government that said that it was interested in efficiency savings.
That all speaks to the wider pattern that the SNP is good at the easy decisions and playing to the populist gallery but baulks at the tough decisions. It is racking up the bills of delay, dithering and indecision. It can run, but it can't hide. Decision time is fast approaching, and the Labour Party is determined to come back week after week until the SNP is forced to recognise the will of Parliament, accept the need for the projects and deliver them in the interests of the nation.