First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 21st June 2007.
To ask the First Minister when he will next meet the Chancellor of the Exchequer and what issues they will discuss. (S3F-76)
I hope to meet the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the British-Irish Council in Belfast next month.
On Edinburgh trams, on 30 May, Stewart Stevenson said that costs were "out of control". Yesterday, the Auditor General for Scotland said that the
"Financial management and reporting of the project appears sound".
Who is right?
I read out earlier some of the key points from the Auditor General's report on these infrastructure projects.
The information that has come back to the Parliament vindicates entirely the five votes in the Parliament that said that we must have that financial information. [ Interruption. ]
Excuse me, First Minister. Such sedentary exclamations may be suitable for another place, but they are not suitable in this chamber. [ Applause. ]
When we look in detail at the Auditor General's report, which I am sure Nicol Stephen has read, one thing stands out with extraordinary clarity: according to the Auditor General, there were no meetings of the project board between April 2006 and February 2007. Where was the former Minister for Transport when that project was running into the sands? Was he absent without leave?
The First Minister's response suggests that he has not yet properly read the Auditor General's positive report. I am asking about the Edinburgh trams project today. Why is it that the First Minister's spin doctor was quoted this morning as saying that the SNP motion next week will call for both projects to be cancelled and his ministers say that costs are "out of control", but the Auditor General says that the projects are "sound" and "robust"? Ministers have said that they need a week to work out what to do next, but the First Minister's spin doctor says that they decided last night. Scottish business is waiting, the projects are waiting and the Parliament is waiting. Can we have an honest statement about this important project from someone in the Government?
I also read out the quotes from the Auditor General about the trams project. I am particularly interested in the shortfall of £48.8 million that he identified in phase 1. Perhaps in next week's debate, Nicol Stephen will tell us where that £48.8 million will come from. Will it come from the council tax payers of Edinburgh or does he expect the Executive just to extend the budget?
On the BBC website today, Paddy Ashdown is quoted as saying:
"You do not build partnership government by seeking to add the Liberal Democrats as a bungalow annexe to a Labour government."
Nice words. I suspect that that construction project was over budget as well.