Forth Crossing

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 15th January 2009.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 2:15 pm, 15th January 2009

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-3214, in the name of John Swinney, on the Forth road crossing. Once again, I remind members that the Presiding Officers are no longer giving a one-minute warning before the end of each speech. As time is very tight, members will be kept very tight to their speaking times.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 2:56 pm, 15th January 2009

The Government's commitment to constructing a Forth replacement crossing is based on a concern that we inherited: the Forth road bridge's main suspension cables are deteriorating and the bridge might have only a limited future life in carrying traffic across the Forth. That said, the results of the Forth Estuary Transport Authority's recent inspections provide some grounds for optimism about the strength of the existing crossing and its ability to be repaired and refurbished to cope with future use.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

The cabinet secretary has just said something that is absolutely material to the rest of the debate. Last Thursday, at a briefing that I and some other members attended, engineers from his department made it clear that the existing bridge has a future that goes as far as they can see. They did not indicate any threat to or question about the length of time that it will be available.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

If Lord Foulkes had been listening, he would have heard me say that the deterioration in the cables is affecting the bridge's ability to continue in its current form and to carry current levels of traffic into the foreseeable future. Reports that we have received—we have all seen them as they are publicly available—suggest the need for remedial action to improve the bridge. The choices that we face concern prolonged closure of the bridge to ensure that that refurbishment can be carried out, which, after all, would result in significant economic damage to the constituents that Lord Foulkes and other members represent.

The Government has decided to act now to counter the remaining risk that the existing bridge might have to close at some stage, and its proposals, which were set out to Parliament in December, revolve around two important elements. First, the existing bridge will carry public transport, pedestrians and cyclists. Initially, it will take buses and taxis, but it could be adapted to carry a light rapid transit system. Secondly, the replacement crossing will cost between £1.7 million and £2.3 billion, which is a saving of about £1.7 billion on the cost estimate that I set out in my earlier statement to Parliament. I point out that the quality of the project has not been reduced along with the costs; in fact, the refined scheme has just as many traffic lanes across the firth, more public transport options and less environmental impact and can be delivered as promised by 2016.

d

"will cost between £1.7 million and £2.3 billion" surely £1.7 billion ?

Submitted by duncan cumming

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

Will the cabinet secretary confirm that the cost estimates for a full multimodal crossing, which was the Government's previous stated policy, still stand and are still accurate? After all, what he has announced is not necessarily a cost saving on the same design; the proposal is for a different bridge with a different specification.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

We are setting out the proposal for a managed crossing scheme, which essentially involves the two elements of the replacement Forth crossing and the existing bridge. That is how we can secure the saving of around £1.7 billion on our previous cost estimates.

Ministers have carefully considered the project, as it represents the largest capital investment project that will be undertaken in Scotland in a generation. Different options were considered. The first that was considered and rejected was a possible contractual arrangement involving a lease concession with public funding, augmented with user tolls. In accounting terms, that option offered the possibility of solving the affordability issue with off-balance-sheet classification, but it was poor value for money. The costs would have included capital costs for certain elements of the road improvements, long-term lease charges for the approach roads and bridge, and toll charges to users. Through summing those costs over an 80-year contract and discounting to provide a net present value, it was found that the cost was higher than that of alternatives.

The novelty of an 80-year finance deal also created uncertainties. If the finance were more expensive—assuming that it would be available at all in the current climate—the cost of that unattractive option would increase further still. Operationally, tolling levels would be in the hands of the operator, and the public interest would never own the bridge.

The second option that we examined was a not-for-profit scheme and a public-private partnership route. That option represented value for money, but such a scheme was judged to contain significant risk and uncertainty for constructing a replacement crossing at this time.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

The cabinet secretary referred to a "not-for-profit scheme". Did he not mean a non-profit-distributing model?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I accept Mr Kerr's terminology.

As I said, the second option represented value for money, but the forthcoming changes to accounting practices that the United Kingdom Government has chosen to introduce from April 2009 will fundamentally change the viability of the proposition. The incorporation of the international financial reporting standards means that almost all infrastructure projects, including private finance initiative and PPP schemes, will come on balance sheet. The budgetary impact of PPP is that the capital cost is recognised in the year that construction is completed, which would be 2016 for the replacement Forth crossing. The affordability consequence would be that a capital obligation of around £2.15 billion would fall in 2016-17, which is a higher burden than that which would arise with conventional procurement as a consequence of capitalising the cost of the capital used during the construction period.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I am not arguing for the option, but is the cabinet secretary absolutely sure that it would be a hit on the Scottish budget in one year? If he is, would not that scupper his Scottish Futures Trust as much as PPP?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The Scottish Futures Trust performs a different role, which I will come on to in a moment.

The second option questions the viability of PFI or PPP schemes because of the implications of costs coming on balance sheet in one particular year. The £2.15 billion obligation is additional to the annual charges that would arise in the normal way with such a contract, starting in 2017-18 at more than £130 million a year over a 25 to 30-year period. In effect, the public purse would be paying twice for the bridge, at significant costs.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am afraid that I have a lot of details to give. I have given way several times, and I need to put more detail on the record.

We also concluded that there would be major issues in funding the project by private means because of the difficulties of accessing finance in the financial markets at this time. Experience indicates that, instead of the project being funded by one financial institution, a number of financial institutions would have to be involved. Recent experience shows that, in such cases, the time that is required to ensure that the project can be put in place is significantly extended. As a consequence, it is likely that there would be a further delay in the preparation timescale for the bridge and our ability to start construction in 2011, when all the finance would have to be in place, would be put in jeopardy.

Accordingly, after thorough consideration, we concluded that, in the current challenging and volatile economic climate, a design-and-build option using Government capital finance represents the lowest risk. That form of contract has been used for major trunk roads during the past 18 years. It has been reliable, it levers private sector inventiveness and efficiencies into the design, and it effectively controls the cost paid after tenders have been submitted. Importantly, it is the most secure form of achieving the project on time and to budget, and it will provide the greatest level of confidence and certainty to potential contractors because they will know that the proposal will be delivered.

In December, we set out the approach that we are taking using the traditional procurement method of Government capital expenditure. The Cabinet made that decision, and I wrote to the Treasury in advance of Mr Stevenson's statement to Parliament to set out our proposal to pay for the crossing with traditional Government capital budgets while spreading that cost over a longer period of time. I set out to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury a well-reasoned proposal that asked that consideration be given to reprofiling the Scottish capital budget from 2011 to 2031. We did not ask for more money; we simply asked for our capital budgets to be reprofiled. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury informed me that my request had been rejected on the ground that the UK spending framework does not allow for bringing forward investments in that way.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am afraid that I cannot; I have more to say.

I merely note in passing that exceptional circumstances sometimes call for exceptional measures, and the Forth crossing is an exceptional project. I also note that there has been criticism that our proposed approach would bind future Governments to spending commitments. I pose the question to Parliament: what exactly does PFI do? Future Governments will be paying up to £1 billion in repayments each year until 2024 because of decisions made by previous Governments.

As I said to Mr Chisholm, the Scottish Futures Trust will be actively engaged with Transport Scotland and its advisers on all its major road and rail projects, including the Forth replacement crossing. SFT has supported Transport Scotland on issues such as non-profit-distributing models, value for money and current market conditions, and that work will continue.

I point out that borrowing powers, for example, would have added to the deliberations of the Parliament on the ways in which we could deliver the Forth crossing and, in that respect, we need to consider the Parliament's powers to deliver such projects. I will move the motion in my name and recommend that the Parliament supports the Government's position.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the Scottish Government's choice of conventional capital funding for construction of the Forth Replacement Crossing and welcomes the fact that Scotland's biggest infrastructure project for a generation will be delivered without the need for tolls.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour 3:07 pm, 15th January 2009

Mr Swinney and Mr Salmond are both on the record as claiming that the Scottish Futures Trust will be the funding mechanism for Scotland's biggest infrastructure project in a generation. Before the election, and for months afterwards, they claimed that the SFT would match Labour's investment in new schools brick for brick, and they repeatedly said that the SFT would be the preferred procurement method for those and other major capital projects.

On "Newsnight" yesterday, Mr Chris Bone, managing director of Bone Steel of Wishaw, who makes steel frames for new buildings, said that his company has been involved in the building of approximately 35 schools in Scotland in the past 18 to 24 months but that the lack of new projects in the pipeline—thanks to the Scottish National Party—means that the schools construction programme in Scotland is starting to decrease considerably and that his company is now working on some major education projects in the midlands and the south of England.

This is an issue not for just contractors and education authorities. The Deputy First Minister delivered her verdict on the SFT when she chose conventional procurement for the Southern general hospital, and now the architect of the SFT, Mr Swinney himself, has been forced to admit that the Scottish Futures Trust is not a suitable mechanism for the Forth replacement crossing.

It could be argued that Mr Swinney's comments about the SFT are coming to resemble Michael Palin's efforts to convince John Cleese that there is still life in the Norwegian blue in the Monty Python dead parrot sketch, but the consequences of the failure of the Scottish Futures Trust are unfortunately not a humorous matter.

During the debate that followed the statement on the Government's Forth replacement crossing, Jeremy Purvis and I asked whether ministers had been in dialogue with the UK Government. At the time, ministers dodged those questions but, later in the month, it emerged that they had written to Treasury ministers less than a fortnight before the strategy was announced to Parliament. Is that when they finally admitted to themselves that the SFT offered no way forward, or did they realise that much earlier and simply fail to take the necessary steps to secure prior agreement on the funding mechanism? Either way, the SNP has placed the project at unnecessary risk.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government will now have discussions with the UK Government, at the instigation of Jim Murphy, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I agree with the Conservatives that the UK and Scottish Governments should work together constructively to deliver the project at the earliest opportunity.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Does Mr McNulty accept that the Scottish Government's commitment to delivering the Forth replacement crossing through traditional capital expenditure budgets gives the absolute assurance that the resources are available to pay for it, because those budgets are worth £3.5 billion every financial year?

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

That does not necessarily ensure that the project will be delivered on time and to budget. A reasonable question to ask is why the Scottish Government did not hold back at least some of the £900 million reserve to which it had access when it came to power to fund the vital Forth replacement crossing. Ministers were well aware that substantial funding would be required, even if they did not know the precise amount, yet they cleaned out the kitty in pursuit of short-term political advantage and narrowed their funding options to the dead end of the Scottish Futures Trust. Now, with their flagship funding scheme in tatters, they have gone cap in hand to seek a huge advance.

As the Liberal Democrat amendment makes clear, the situation will have huge knock-on consequences for other capital projects. By far the best thing would be for the Government to be completely honest about what can and cannot be progressed and to set out a programme with costings and timescales. If discussions with the UK Government had been progressed earlier, we might have had much more certainty—the certainty to which Mr Swinney referred—about the Forth replacement crossing's impact on other transport projects.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Does Des McNulty agree that the best way to make progress economically is for the Government to be clear about what can be progressed with the existing bridge? Does Labour accept that the existing bridge can be repaired and that, if that is possible, a second bridge is unnecessary?

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

I will describe the paradoxes in the detail of the bridge strategy now. Labour's priorities are to avoid disruption to travellers across the Forth, ensure maximum flexibility in all transport modes, deliver value for money and provide a solution that meets longer-term as well as short-term requirements. In December 2007, the Government announced that its preferred option was a multimodal replacement bridge. Many people—especially engineering experts—thought that the costings were considerably out of line with outturn prices for similar bridges of an equivalent length elsewhere in the world.

We now have revised proposals for a "refined, sleeker replacement bridge" that will operate alongside the existing bridge in "a managed crossing strategy". Nearly £100 million has been spent on consultation and planning—most was on consultancy fees. Dr Iain Docherty told the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee that professional expertise has been

"brought to the table from countries across Europe and the world that have dealt with similar problems" and that robust peer review by senior engineers has taken place behind the scenes. I certainly hope that that is the case, but I am concerned by this comment:

"I believe that the long-term future of the existing bridge is still in doubt in some ways. Once the replacement crossing is up and running and we transfer the existing traffic to the new bridge, we will be in the same position in capacity terms as we are in today. We will then have to begin to think long and hard about the long-term future of the existing structure. It will take a long time to remediate it, and we will have to find the money to do that."

He said that it might be

"possible to extend the life of the bridge, but only if we reduce its physical capacity so that it has, for example, only two lanes rather than four for many years".—[Official Report, Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, 6 January 2009; c 1233.]

That is a lot of maybes and additional costs that have not been factored into the scheme that the minister presented. The replacement Forth crossing was deemed necessary because of uncertainty about the existing bridge's deterioration. Now, the replacement's design seems to be predicated on the assumption that the existing bridge's life can be extended indefinitely.

We cannot face both ways. If we build a road-only bridge that is intended for the use of private vehicles, are we accepting that public transport could be excluded from crossing the Forth if the existing bridge's deterioration cannot be prevented? Although the early indications from FETA show some slowing in the rate of deterioration, no explanation has been made thus far of why the condition of the current bridge presents an unacceptable risk to the continuity of provision for private vehicles but an acceptable risk for public transport. That is a crazy situation.

We need the fullest possible information on the Government's new crossing strategy and on the previous strategy that it has now discarded. It is unacceptable for ministers to argue that they know best or to say that we should leave things to the experts when ministers have so radically altered their stance in a short space of time—presumably on the basis of expert advice.

I want a solution that provides maximum flexibility and the greatest certainty—a solution that is future proofed, as far as it is possible to do so. Having spent £2 billion or more, we need to be sure that access across the Forth is at least as good as it is at present and under any foreseeable eventuality. It is for that reason that my amendment requires the new bridge—if that is what we are going to have—to be

"capable of operating on a multi-modal basis to ensure continuity of provision for public transport as well as private vehicles."

Even if it makes sense in the short term to separate out public and private vehicles, surely it must be possible to construct the new bridge so that all modes of transport can use it. I listened to what Mr Swinney said on the possibility of light rail using the new bridge. That possibility was not made sufficiently explicit in the documentation that I have seen thus far—that said, if it is a change of stance, it is probably welcome.

The argument that the price of the crossing has come down because of the approach that the Government has taken is ridiculous. The bridge is narrower and considerable reductions have been made in the motorway and access road alterations that are being incorporated into the scheme. Earlier this week, Mr Stevenson was either unable or unwilling to tell me what proportion of the cost reductions stemmed from changes to the bridge design and how much stemmed from changes to the associated road works. That approach has to change: we are all partners in the project and we are acting not on our own behalf but on behalf of future generations.

I move amendment S3M-3214.3, to leave out from "and welcomes" to end and insert:

"; expresses concern that the lack of prior consultation with the UK Government raises questions over the delivery of the project on time and on budget, and considers that the new bridge should be capable of operating on a multi-modal basis to ensure continuity of provision for public transport as well as private vehicles."

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative 3:17 pm, 15th January 2009

I will focus on funding and construction issues around the new Forth bridge, but I will first touch on other areas.

As our amendment makes clear, the priority must be to ensure that the new Forth bridge is constructed as soon as possible. Some people dispute the need for a new bridge, but it would be unacceptable to put at risk the entire economy of the east of Scotland in the belief that they might be correct. The project must be completed as a matter of urgency.

As we see in the Labour amendment, and as Des McNulty made clear in his remarks, concern has been expressed in some quarters about the design of the bridge. I assume that any changes to the design would add costs and perhaps lead to further delay, both of which we can ill afford.

We understand that Jim Murphy will raise the design of the bridge at his meeting with the Scottish Government on 27 January. The UK Government has an important role to play in relation to potential funding options for the bridge. However, the design of the new crossing should be a matter not for the Secretary of State for Scotland but for the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. Indeed, issues around bridge design may have been raised as a smokescreen to shield from discussion the more fundamental issue of funding, to which I now turn.

If the Scottish Government is correct in its assessment of how a privately funded bridge, whether under PFI, PPP or SFT, would be treated in the Scottish Government's accounts, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the only show in town for funding the bridge is the Scottish Government's budget. We have no ideological objection to that. The capital budget stands at more than £3.5 billion a year. In theory, the Scottish Government could fund the bridge in full from the budgets that we expect it to have. However, it is clear that the scale of the project is so large that it will inevitably displace many other capital infrastructure projects—whether national health service, transport or schools projects—across the country.

It may well be the case that, at the end of the day, there is no option other than to fund the bridge from the capital budget. We take the view that the Forth bridge must be built. It has to be the number 1 transport priority in Scotland. Whatever the funding method, some projects will be delayed while resource is provided to the bridge. The real question is about the scale of resource to be diverted from those projects and the length of time for which they will be delayed.

The new Forth road bridge project will be progressed after the next Scottish and UK general elections. Indeed, it might not be finished until after the next two Scottish and UK general elections. As such, it is right that it has an element of stability and certainty and, for that reason, the Conservatives have offered discussions between our shadow Treasury team and the Scottish Government. That constructive, positive offer is a sign of our willingness to discuss the question whether there are options to mitigate the impact of the construction of the bridge on other projects.

The Treasury's response to the Scottish Government's request can be characterised as conceding—almost, but not quite—that PPP is not a likely solution. It offers two alternatives: the switching of Scottish Government revenue spending to capital spending, and the use of accumulated underspends. The scale of underspends—£42 million last year—shows that unless there is a marked change they will not provide a meaningful sum towards the construction of the bridge. In any case, the Treasury has already suggested that underspends will compensate for the reduction in the capital budget from 2010-11. That money cannot be spent twice. It is certainly possible to switch revenue funding to capital funding, but to do so on a scale sufficient to offset significant delays in other programmes will require an appetite to reduce spending on those programmes over a sustained period of time, for which I do not think there is likely to be a parliamentary majority.

A critical issue with the construction of the bridge is that there is no inherent reason why the public sector cannot pay for the bridge using a fixed-price contract, with penalty clauses for delay. However, we know that public sector projects have a history of exceeding their budget and their timescale. That would be unacceptable for this project.

Managing the risk of cost overruns and delays is crucial, and it is essential to do so in a way that provides a cast-iron guarantee that none of the risk is passed back to the taxpayer. Ultimately, this is a project of high prestige to contractors. It will also be recognised as being too big to fail, and it will be too tempting for contractors to underbid, in the expectation that the Government will have to step in if things go wrong. That issue must be resolved in the contracting process.

The issue of tolls has been raised around the margins of the debate on funding. As the new bridge is to be a replacement, rather than additional, crossing, there is no logic in introducing tolls on it, having abolished them on the existing bridge. Indeed, the level of toll income from the existing bridge would be a drop in the ocean compared with the projected costs of the new bridge; a larger income would require tolls of a level that would be unacceptable on a route to which there is no ready alternative.

Although I accept what Iain Gray said today about tolls, both the Labour and Lib Dem amendments, in removing the part of the motion that addresses tolls, are unacceptable to the Conservatives. We accept, however, the concept of prioritising projects, as set out in the Lib Dem amendment, although that is a little ironic. In March 2007, Tavish Scott was asked to publish a list, in priority order, of the then Government's transport projects. His answer was:

"All these projects are considered as a priority, which is why they have been included in the programme".—[Official Report, Written Answers, 23 March 2007; (S2W-32430).]

I expect that that answer will be repeated today by Mr Scott's successor.

I move amendment 3214.1, to insert at end:

"and calls on the Scottish and UK governments to work together to ensure that the new crossing is delivered at the earliest possible opportunity."

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 3:23 pm, 15th January 2009

A year ago to this very day, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth told the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee:

"I said that the strongest and clearest lesson that I have learned about any major transport or other infrastructure project in the brief time that I have been in government is that governance arrangements have to be crystal clear before a project gets under way. If a project gets under way with any uncertainty as to its direction or where the responsibility or power lies, it will be a difficult project."—[Official Report, Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, 15 January 2008; c 361.]

What a total mess there has been since then: a totally different specification for the bridge, no agreement on a funding structure, a game of chicken with Westminster ministers, and a shadow of doubt that will hang over other major transport projects between now and 2016. There has been awful governance of this project, which is of national significance and of huge significance to the communities of Fife and the Lothians.

As recently as September last year, the Government's clear policy was to take forward a multimodal crossing. On 9 September, the cabinet secretary told the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee:

"there will be multimodal capacity, which members of the Parliament have clearly said is important, because it will open up an entirely new prospect for transport links between Fife and other parts of the east of Scotland. The bridge offers a comprehensive transport solution, involving road design and the establishment of multimodal facilities. I wanted to put things in context."—[Official Report,

Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, 9 September 2008; c 826.]

The First Minister told us at lunch time today:

"when a minister gives a commitment, that commitment is met. That is how the process works."

I think that I quoted him accurately. Well, within eight weeks of the cabinet secretary's attendance at the 9 September meeting of the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, we learned that the new crossing was not to be multimodal.

There are significant questions about the longevity of the existing bridge because, as the cabinet secretary told the Parliament, we will not know whether dehumidification has been successful until 2012-13. We also know nothing about the multimodal capacity for light transit or guided busways on the hard shoulder of the new, multibillion-pound crossing.

That confusion has been compounded by the confusion over the funding route. The SNP's first policy, as we all recall, was to allow queues of patriotic Scottish families to buy patriotic bonds to pay for a new Forth bridge. Then the Scottish Futures Trust was to deliver the new bridge. The First Minister was inadvertently candid last week at First Minister's questions when he was asked why the SFT had been ruled out in delivering the bridge:

"The reason why is obvious: the Forth crossing is the biggest capital project in Scottish history that is on a strict timetable to be built by 2016-17 and needs certainty of approach."—[Official Report, 8 January 2009; c 13817.]

To be fair, that is why the SFT has been ruled out.

Next, the SNP was to fund the bridge through a not-for-profit mechanism, but that has now been ruled out. When John Swinney was interviewed by Lesley Riddoch last Friday, he said—and he confirmed today—that he has ruled out any borrowing for the bridge. Therefore, he has ruled out forward payments into the future, because borrowing would mean that the bridge would have to be paid for twice, in effect. However, that is exactly the funding option that has been chosen for the £295 million Borders railway. It will be funded entirely through borrowing, with lifecycle costs in the region of £1 billion. It will be designed, built, financed and maintained for profit by the private sector. We now know that the assets—the actual railway—will be vested in the private sector contractor, too, with an accounting mechanism that allows a system of unitary payment to be branded "not for profit". However, that option is ruled out for the new crossing. I have asked why it is okay for one project but has been ruled out for the other. The answer is that it depends on the best value for the public purse, but the two funding options cannot both be right, and no comparative assessment of them been published.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Has the member looked at international accounting standards 37 and 31 on the International Accounting Standards Board's website? They explain precisely the entirely different character of the income stream in rail projects from that in road projects. That is precisely why it is possible to apply a funding mechanism to the Borders railway that cannot be applied to the bridge.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I have looked at those. The accounting procedures for a design, build, finance and maintain approach would be identical to the NPD accounting structure that the cabinet secretary seems to have ruled out.

Clarifying the SFT policy in Parliament on 23 June 2005, Stewart Stevenson said:

"It is not about bringing things back on to the balance sheet; it is about getting better value from our banks."—[Official Report, 23 June 2005; c 18257.]

We were told then that the policy was nothing to do with the balance sheet, but he tells us now that it is everything to do with the balance sheet.

When Stewart Stevenson told Parliament on 10 December that the crossing was going ahead, he said that it would be funded directly out of the Scottish budget, abeit through an interest-free loan from the Treasury. That makes it four policies in as many years. Notwithstanding the brass neck of a party of independence seeking a 20-year interest-free loan from the UK Treasury, it is simply not acceptable that the Treasury should have two weeks' notice of the SNP's seeking an agreement between the two Governments to deliver

"the greatest construction project in Scottish history", as the First Minister described it. Indeed, he said last week to lain Gray:

"the Treasury doesnae do anything in two weeks."—[Official Report, 8 January 2009; c 13820, 13818.]

The new crossing is of national importance. The world's financial services and planning sectors are watching us. We have to get it right but, so far, the Government is not doing so.

I move amendment S3M-3214.4, to leave out from "and welcomes" to end and insert:

"; condemns the actions of the Scottish Government in bringing before the Parliament a proposal for the Forth Replacement Crossing (FRC) that has no agreed funding package; notes that under the Scottish Government's plans "a significant number of other very deserving capital projects will have to be displaced to make room for the FRC", and therefore calls on the Scottish Government to bring before the Parliament immediately a prioritised list of capital projects between 2009 and 2016."

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

We now move to the open debate. Speeches should be of six minutes. There will be no warning: members should keep their eyes on the clock, because I will move on to the next member after six minutes.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 3:29 pm, 15th January 2009

The new Forth crossing is the most important infrastructure project for generations and ends years of uncertainty for businesses and commuters alike. It is vital not only for Fife's economy, but for the economy of the whole of east central Scotland. It is a pity that the arguments that we have used in the past have not been accepted and that there seems to be some doubt about whether the bridge should go ahead. Of course it should. The SNP recognises the importance of a new Forth bridge.

That brings me to the nub of the argument. The previous Labour-Liberal Administration would not give any commitment to the building of a new crossing as it had no funding plan in place, beyond retaining the tolls. In the strategic transport projects review, the Scottish Government confirmed that the new crossing will be built at a cost of between £1.72 billion and £2.34 billion and that it will be funded through public procurement. It will not be funded through PFI, and it will certainly not be funded through the tolls so beloved of Labour and Liberal members that they refused to remove them from the existing bridge when they were in office.

Although the Scottish Government has produced proposals that will ensure that the new crossing is toll free, can we rely on the Opposition parties to support that move? On "Good Morning Scotland" on 10 December, Des McNulty

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

If the member lets me finish my point, I will be delighted to let him in.

On 10 December, Des McNulty confirmed that the Labour Party would look at "all possible options" for funding the bridge. He was followed by David Whitton, who said on "Newsnight Scotland", when asked whether Labour would consider PPP or tolls for the project:

"I don't know if that rules them out or in."

Iain Gray was at pains this morning to say that Labour rules out the introduction of tolls. This is the hokey-cokey politics of Labour: it rules tolls in, it rules them out, it rules them in and shakes them all about—depending on what way the Forth wind blows.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

I think the member will find that the ruling in of tolls was done by her—the measure was not suggested by any Labour member.

However, for clarity, Iain Gray has resolved the matter.

Did the member stand on a manifesto that said that the Scottish Futures Trust would fund the crossing?

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

I certainly ruled in a manifesto that said that the SNP Government would get rid of the tolls, which Labour and the Liberal Democrats refused to do. I am delighted that that was the first action of the Scottish Government, and that the bill to do so was the first that the Scottish Government brought in.

There is a limited number of ways in which the new bridge can be financed. We believe that the costs should be met by public procurement, and we have sought Treasury permission to spread them over 20 years. The alternatives are either PFI or tolls: tolls on the existing bridge to pay for the new bridge, tolls on the new bridge, or tolls on both. The Treasury agrees that PPP is no longer an option, given that its use would not solve the budgeting problems were the scheme to be classed as a public spending scheme. Labour is now saying no tolls. Frankly, that leaves only the SNP Government's preferred method of funding. It is beyond time that the Labour Party, both north and south of the border, stopped playing its stupid, childish games with the bridge and the east of Scotland economy and gave its support to spreading the costs.

We have it from Gordon Brown himself that methods other than public procurement are unacceptable. In 1985, the future Prime Minister said that he would bring forward a private member's bill to abolish tolls on the Forth road bridge—he did not do so, although he said that he would. At the time, he called the funding mechanism for the present Forth bridge

"an unfortunate experiment in privatisation".

He also said that

"motorists crossing have to pay for the bridge four times over", and asked:

"What explanation can the government now give for their refusal even to consider the finances of the bridge, which is clearly an essential element of our road system?"

The Treasury's refusal to allow the SNP Government to spread the costs over 20 years is bizarre. Unlike local government and the Northern Ireland Executive, the Scottish Government is not allowed to borrow. No one would argue that the whole £2 billion cost should be found out of one budget, because that would have a devastating effect on the overall budget and on other capital projects.

The Treasury's claim that the Scottish Government cannot meet the capital costs from budgets that have not yet been allocated is simply not credible, because that is precisely the method that is used to repay the costs of PFI and PPP projects that have been completed since 1999. I am grateful to the Scottish Parliament information centre for providing me with the sums that the Scottish Government—and future Scottish Governments—must find to meet the costs that have already been committed to PFI projects. In 1999-2000, £51 million had to be found to meet the costs of PFI. In 2008-09, £608 million has had to be found. The cost of meeting PFI-PPP payments will rise steadily until 2016-17—and beyond—with a staggering cost of £914 million in that year's budget.

Budgets that have not yet been allocated are already committed to meeting the PFI costs to which the Labour and Liberal Administration committed itself between 1999 and 2007. Given that future budgets are committed, perhaps the Labour Party and the Treasury can explain why the SNP Government cannot spread the capital costs of the new bridge over 20 years.

The Scottish Government is committed to providing the replacement Forth crossing by traditional procurement methods and to delivering it on time, on budget and, most important, toll free to the people of Scotland. The Labour Party should stop playing games and support the Government.

Photo of Marilyn Livingstone Marilyn Livingstone Labour 3:35 pm, 15th January 2009

The one issue on which most of us can agree is that the case for a new Forth crossing has been made. Having represented a Fife constituency since the Parliament's inception in 1999, I believe that this debate is crucial to the people whom I represent. Nobody should be playing games this afternoon.

The project must be our number 1 priority, and of course it must go ahead. Surely this debate should be about how the new crossing is to be delivered on time; whether it is fit for purpose, makes provision for public transport and is future proof; and whether appropriate funding has been identified. I will consider each of those crucial issues in turn.

On 15 January 2008, the cabinet secretary told the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee that the reason for the decision to build a new bridge was the risk to the existing Forth bridge. George Foulkes talked about the meetings that took place last week. The timescales have been changing: the latest information shows that the rate of deterioration has slowed and that the earliest that closure of the existing bridge might be required is between 2018 and 2020.

In November 2008, Stewart Stevenson announced that the Scottish Government intended to keep the existing bridge open to public transport and to build a cheaper, new bridge for private vehicles. I am concerned that we are moving too far away from the multimodal element of the new bridge, which I think is important.

The plans for the replacement bridge have changed. The multimodal element is now being moved over to the existing bridge. I think that I heard the cabinet secretary say how that would be done, but that approach raises more questions that it answers. What will be the cost of upgrading, maintaining and converting the existing bridge? What assessment has been made to confirm the lifespan of the existing bridge? For how long will the existing bridge need to be closed to allow remedial work to be done? The Parliament should be asking those questions.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I would like to add another question to the member's list. How would she, as a representative of Fife constituents, argue against the inevitable political pressure to open the existing bridge to road traffic once the new one is built and is congested to the same extent that the existing bridge is?

Photo of Marilyn Livingstone Marilyn Livingstone Labour

I thank the member for his intervention. I will address the issue that he raises.

Another question that we should ask is whether there is a robust engineering case for saying that the Government's current plan is the optimum solution. Although we have some information, it would be really good for Parliament to have the detail.

The new bridge must be fit for purpose; otherwise, we will be letting down generations of Scots. As I said, the new bridge needs to be multimodal. My concern is that there have been many changes of mind about design and that the changing information on which we have to base a decision on this crucial project leaves questions unanswered. In a nutshell, my concern is whether the Government is making the right choice and whether there is evidence to support that.

To address Patrick Harvie's intervention, I am concerned that the Government's current proposals will not meet transportation needs over the projected 120-year lifespan of the bridge. Transport Scotland has stated that the new, narrower replacement bridge will not be able to cope with extra traffic over its 120-year lifespan. On current traffic projections, the new bridge would be full the day it opened. Surely that gives cause for concern, to say the least, and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

I continue to support a multimodal option for any new crossing over the Forth estuary. Since the bridge was opened in 1964, the level of traffic has increased from 4 million vehicles to 21.4 million vehicles in 2008, with public transport accounting for only 17 vehicles per hour.

Many members share my concern that unless there is significant modal shift to public transport—reliable public transport—the problems that commuters experience at peak times will continue. Use of the hard shoulder for trams and buses sounds like a good idea, but what happens if bridge traffic has to be reduced to one lane because of a breakdown or accident?

The opportunity to achieve our aspirations to increase public transport options and reduce carbon emissions is at risk, but the cabinet secretary has an opportunity to take the right decision for all Scotland's people. Will the new, cut-price proposal meet the needs of communities and businesses in the east of Scotland?

The cabinet secretary must address the concerns that members have expressed. He is aware that there are real concerns about how the project will be funded and about the impact of the funding decision on transport, school and hospital projects. Will he assure members that the project will be regarded as central to an integrated transport strategy for Fife that will address the economic and social needs of mid-Fife in particular? All available statistics support the need for such an approach, which is crucial to the development of the new city region. As part of the approach, the Redhouse interchange will need to be upgraded. I want to hear when work will start on that crucial project.

Once in a lifetime, we get a chance to do what is right for the people whom we serve. It is time for the Government to listen and to build a bridge that will serve the people of Scotland.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party 3:41 pm, 15th January 2009

At a time of recession, some issues are of such vital importance to Scotland's economy that they transcend party politics. The Scottish Government's plans to build the replacement Forth crossing, which will be the greatest construction project in a generation, should be one such issue.

Almost all members accept that we need a replacement bridge. The Forth crossing is of fundamental importance to the infrastructure of Scotland and its loss would be nothing less than a catastrophe for the east of Scotland economy.

The most recent prognosis for the existing bridge is more optimistic. However, it is clear that closures would be required over a number of years to allow repairs to take place, which would result in unprecedented gridlock if the traffic load was not reduced. Given that 70,000 vehicles cross the bridge every day, members can imagine how long the tailback of stationary cars would be on the road to Kincardine.

The Labour-led Executive committed—eventually—to a new bridge. Whether it would have got round to building the bridge is another matter. Jack McConnell procrastinated, like a modern Hamlet, wondering whether to build or not to build, and the result could have been a tragedy for the economies of the Lothians and Fife. I am thankful that the SNP Government showed no such inertia. Decisions were taken, preparatory work was begun and the bridge will be built by 2016. Even better, a dedicated public transport corridor for buses, taxis, pedestrians and cyclists has been guaranteed. The extended life of the existing bridge will ensure that public transport is prioritised, while the vital road crossing will be safeguarded. That is a win-win scenario and I welcome the Scottish Government's work to take the proposals forward.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

I do not recall any procrastination, but I will take the member's word for it. She talked about the need for definitive commitments to projects. The First Minister said:

"If we have a new bridge, a bond issue is definitely the way to do it."

Does the member share that definitive view?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

The cabinet secretary dealt with such statements in his speech and said how the SFT will be involved in the delivery of the Forth replacement crossing—

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

Yes, he did. The member had better check the Official Report .

In a time of financial crisis we should welcome the SNP Government's decision to fund the replacement crossing through a conventional procurement strategy, which will offer the best value for money and the lowest risk. It is disappointing that the chancellor has chosen not to support the SNP's sensible proposal to bring forward capital spending for this crucial project. If the Scottish Government had normal borrowing powers, as local councils, Network Rail and the Northern Ireland Executive do, the issue would be resolved without conflict or debate. However, that is another story, which I hope—without expectation—that the Calman Commission on Scottish Devolution will tell.

Photo of Jim Tolson Jim Tolson Liberal Democrat

Did the member listen to what the cabinet secretary said about funding? More important, did she note what he did not say? He failed absolutely to explain how the new crossing will be funded. Plans to hold out the begging bowl to Westminster or to use the Scottish Futures Trust have failed. It would be nice to hear from the Government how it will fund the project.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

The cabinet secretary explained in great detail how the project will be funded: it will be funded through public procurement. However, I did not hear in the Liberal Democrat opening speech how the Liberal Democrats would fund the bridge. For that matter, I have not heard how any other party would fund the bridge.

Mr Darling's reasoning—that that approach is one that the Government just does not take—is breathtaking in its hypocrisy. While the chancellor rejects that sensible path for the Scottish Government, the Prime Minister promotes the bringing forward of capital spending to ease the recession.

The Labour Party's dogmatic determination to press the case for PFI, despite the wealth of evidence of its wastefulness, is staggering. It is common sense, not ideological dogma, that has driven the SNP to reject PFI. After the £27 million buy-out of the Skye bridge, one would think that Opposition colleagues would be more cautious about going down that route again.

PFI projects are hyper-expensive and provide poor value for money, and they leave a legacy of debt. As has been mentioned, the irony should not be lost on members that Labour has been more than happy to saddle future Scottish Governments with billions of pounds of PFI debt over the next 30 years but is unwilling to allow this Government to borrow over the same period.

Given the chancellor's inexplicable rejection of the SNP's solution to the budgeting issue, anyone would think that Alistair Darling did not want the new bridge to be built. Perhaps he still harbours doubts about its necessity from his days as a member of the ForthRight Alliance, which opposes the project, even though, when he was the UK Secretary of State for Transport, he intervened to declare his absolute commitment to the project when Jack McConnell was dithering over the decision.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I am afraid that I do not have time.

It is clear that the chancellor is not above changing his mind. I hope that he does so again and agrees to work with the Scottish Government to help spread the cost of the crossing, thereby avoiding unnecessary delays in other capital projects.

Even though the SNP Government has not, at this time, received Treasury support for the new bridge, I am delighted that the SNP Government has recognised how crucial the project is to Scotland and that it is prepared to provide fully for the construction costs from existing budgets, if necessary.

The Forth replacement crossing is not a vanity project. It is about maintaining a fundamental link across the Forth. I am delighted that, under an SNP Government, the waiting is finally over for the people of the Lothians and Fife, and that the bridge building can now begin.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour 3:47 pm, 15th January 2009

As I mentioned earlier, last Thursday, Transport Scotland officials held a helpful briefing about the new bridge for Fife and Lothian MSPs, at which I think they revealed rather more than they had intended to. I thank them for their frankness.

Incidentally, I think that the project is misnamed. It can no longer be described as the Forth replacement crossing, because the existing bridge will continue to operate as a vital part of the network. It is an additional bridge, not a replacement.

As the cabinet secretary confirmed, it is planned that the current bridge will be converted for use by public road traffic—in other words, buses and taxis—with the result that it will have a lower loading. I worry how the buses will be affected when there are high winds.

The redesigned new bridge—on which the officials told us that a 40mph limit will apply—will now have only two lanes in each direction, which will be for cars and lorries. That means that there will be no net increase in the total crossing capacity. Moreover, the project will not provide for a light rail system and, as I see it, will not result in any decrease in carbon dioxide emissions.

When we asked the officials how more road traffic from Fife would be accommodated in Edinburgh, they said that that was a problem for the city of Edinburgh and was nothing to do with them, so we will have greater gridlock in Cramond.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Is the member simultaneously arguing that while additional capacity across the Forth should not be provided because of the implications for Edinburgh—which I recognise—if a new bridge is built it should provide additional capacity? Can he clarify his position?

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

I am arguing that we should have joined-up government, whereby if we plan to provide additional capacity on the crossing, we do something to cope with the effect that it will have on Edinburgh. Nothing is being done in that regard.

When the costing of the new bridge was queried, it became clear that it was based on highly speculative paper calculations. No account was taken of what might happen with competitive tendering. Despite our questioning, no detailed explanation was provided of how the £1.7 billion that is supposed to have been saved was saved, although I can tell the Parliament that Transport Scotland's officials made it clear that that saving was certainly not attributable to the funding method, as the First Minister claimed in the chamber last week in yet another of his misstatements.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

One of the factors that has resulted in reduced cost estimates is the fact that the Government has gone for a more predictable financial basis, thereby reducing the exposure to risk. That was one of the points that the First Minister made to Mr Tolson at First Minister's question time last week.

Photo of Lord George Foulkes Lord George Foulkes Labour

I will come to that in a moment.

It is clear that the savings will be made, according to the technical officials, by reducing the specification. As Marilyn Livingstone said, we are getting a cut-price crossing. We are ending up with the worst of both worlds—we are spending billions, but getting no significant improvements. If there is to be a new bridge, the one important addition from the start must be a light rail transit element, which we have proposed ought to be included. I asked the officials why there was no detailed examination of how rail services over the current rail bridge could be substantially improved, but there was no answer. I hope that the transport minister, at least, will reply.

I will move on to the funding, which is crucial. It would be madness to press ahead with what the minister and Tricia Marwick described as the traditional method of funding. This Parliament and previous Governments built something using the traditional method of funding—Holyrood, in which we are standing. Was it on budget or on time? Did the traditional method of funding succeed in that case? It is a pretty awful example.

I will make what I hope is a positive suggestion to the cabinet secretary—I want to be helpful in relation to the crossing, and not unduly party political. Why does he not consider the possibility of funding the crossing by having a consortium of local authorities get together to propose a scheme to the Public Works Loan Board, which exists to lend money precisely for such schemes and has a sensible and reasonable interest rate? The local authorities have the power and can act as a proxy for central Government.

I hope that that is helpful. I also hope that the cabinet secretary will realise, after hearing all the criticisms from members in this debate and from outside the Parliament about the funding and design of the bridge, that it is now time to pause for a few months, examine the project and hold discussions with the United Kingdom Government—as Jim Murphy suggested—on all its aspects. We must ensure that we have a budget to fund a bridge that is fit for purpose.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 3:52 pm, 15th January 2009

I never thought that I would live to see the day when George Foulkes made constructive suggestions to the SNP Government, but it is welcome nonetheless.

The future of the new Forth crossing is vital for my constituents in Fife, Perthshire and Angus and for everyone in the east of Scotland. It is essential to the economy of the whole country that we secure a new crossing. As we have heard, the real danger is that the existing bridge, unable as it is to cope with the weight of traffic, might have to close to heavy goods vehicles and thereafter to vehicles altogether, with devastating consequences.

It is, therefore, good news that the new Forth crossing is moving forward. I remind the Labour and Liberal members who have spoken in the debate that the SNP Government—whatever its faults—is at least taking forward plans for the new crossing, when all we had from the previous Administration was dither and delay.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

No. If Margaret Smith will forgive me, I want to make progress, but she will be pleased to hear that I am now turning my fire elsewhere.

None of that excuses the SNP Government for the extraordinary situation in which it has managed to get itself in relation to the funding of the new bridge. A wholly avoidable state of confusion has been created over how the new crossing will be paid for. When the transport minister, Mr Stevenson, announced the Government's plans for the new crossing in the chamber on 10 December 2008, he said that the bridge would be paid for from the Government's capital budget, and that an approach had been made to the Treasury to secure budgetary cover. He did not, however, say that the Government had not written to the Treasury until 27 November, which was less than two weeks before.

How have we ended up in a situation in which Scotland's most important capital project of this generation faces such uncertainty over its funding? There are three possible explanations.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

If Mr Swinney will forgive me, I will develop my points, then he can tell me which of my possible explanations is correct.

The first explanation is that the situation is simply an example of incompetence. The Government did not get around to speaking to the Treasury until it was too late, but it thought that it could carry on regardless and announce the new crossing without getting clearance. Even I have to question the credibility of that explanation. However we characterise the behaviour of the Government and the cabinet secretary, it would take a harsh critic to accuse him of such gross incompetence.

The second explanation is that, like Baldrick, the cabinet secretary had a cunning plan, although this Baldrick is somewhat larger and better fed than the original. The cunning plan was to announce that the new Forth crossing would go ahead before the Treasury had approved the proposed funding method, in the hope that doing so would bounce the Treasury into saying yes. However, that explanation requires a degree of naivety on the part of the cabinet secretary and his Government colleagues that has not been characteristic of their actions so far.

That leads me to the third explanation, which is that the Government approached the matter with the expectation and, indeed, the hope that the Treasury would say no, which is exactly what it did. That would have two great benefits as far as the Scottish Government was concerned. First, we know that the Government loves nothing more than to stir up a constitutional fight with Westminster. Like a junkie desperate for its next fix, it cannot resist the sweet, sweet drug of conflict with London. The prospect that the Treasury would say no and SNP ministers would then be able to go in and, as they would put it, fight for Scotland was simply too enticing to miss.

Secondly, that approach would have the beneficial side effect of finding a scapegoat for the delays in every other capital project that the Government has proposed—that scapegoat being the perfect one as far as the SNP is concerned, namely the Labour Government in London. When the conclusions of the strategic transport projects review were announced on 10 December, it was noticeable that, among the 29 important projects, including ones that are dear to my heart such as the dualling of the A9, not a single date was mentioned. There were no start dates, no completion dates and no prioritised list. No doubt SNP ministers hoped that the Treasury in London would say no to their proposal for Forth bridge funding so that, as a result, the failure to progress all or any of those vital projects could be placed firmly at Labour's door. There would be no dualling of the A9, no upgrades to the A82 or A96, no electrification of the rail network and so on, and Labour would get the blame.

Mr Swinney will tell us what really happened.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I certainly will tell Mr Fraser what happened, because that fantasy tour was worthy of comment. His little tour de force ignored the fact that the Government has given certainty that payment for the Forth replacement crossing will come from traditional capital budgets. That was expressly made clear in Mr Stevenson's statement to the Parliament on 10 December.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Mr Swinney has given us no certainty at all about what will happen to every other project in the strategic transport projects review.

I do not know which of the three explanations comes closest to the truth. Perhaps the actual explanation is a combination of two of them, or perhaps all three. Wherever the truth lies, however, this is no way to run a Government.

Nor should Labour be absolved of all blame in the matter. The future of the Forth crossing is too serious for parties to play political games with it. We need both parties to sit down and work together to try to find a solution. It was Winston Churchill who famously said:

"To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war."

Both parties in the dispute need to learn that lesson quickly, or they will not be forgiven.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 3:58 pm, 15th January 2009

Despite his earlier jibe, I associate myself with the comment that Murdo Fraser made just before he sat down. I agree that the matter is far too important for the SNP and the UK Government to continue to deal with it in the way in which they have approached it so far.

Most of us agree that the continuity of transport links across the Forth is fundamental to Scotland's economy, and that the new crossing should be our number 1 transport priority. That position is shared by the vast majority of my constituents, but many of them now view the project with bemusement and concern. Last October, I asked Stewart Stevenson when affected residents would be told about the impact on their homes and their right to compensation. He said that officials would answer my constituents' specific questions after the announcement was made in December. However, one constituent has now received from officials an e-mail that says that it will be a year before that information is available and that the compensation scheme

"may or may not differ from previous schemes."

No wonder the affected residents are concerned as they face years of blight and uncertainty.

The lack of clarity around what has become an increasingly confused project affects all of us in one way or another. We need clarity on cost. In December 2007, John Swinney and Transport Scotland put a price tag of £3.25 billion to £4.22 billion on the project. At First Minister's question time last week, the First Minister claimed—not once, not twice, but three times—that £1.7 billion of savings had been made because of the funding mechanism that was chosen. That flew in the face of the briefing that was given to me and other MSPs both before and after FMQs by Transport Scotland, at which the issue was clarified by my colleague Jim Tolson. It also contradicted parliamentary answers received by Jeremy Purvis, which I am happy to hand to Mr Swinney for him to look at.

It is clear that the savings have been made by taking away the multimodal element of the new bridge, by reducing the amount of connecting road that will be built and by reducing risk costs as a result of the investigatory work that has been undertaken on site. It would be fair to all of us to give detailed breakdowns of where the £1.7 billion of theoretical savings have been found, rather than more misleading statements.

The taxpaying public is entitled to ask why Transport Scotland got the figures so wrong in the first place. There are many unanswered questions—on carbon emissions, the timetable and compensation—that we do not have time to cover today. However, I know already from community organisations and affected residents that they are not happy with the way in which the project is being taken forward.

We need a crossing that deals with the capacity issues. We have heard from Marilyn Livingstone and others that what Transport Scotland has come up with is unlikely to deal with the extra 1,000 vehicles every day that will use the bridge, which is why many of us were pleased that there was a focus on the multimodal element of the new crossing. In December 2007, Mr Swinney trumpeted the importance of that when he gave the ministerial assurance to Parliament that the link would

"incorporate the opportunity for a real change through multimodal public transport provision."—[Official Report, 19 December 2007; c 4553.]

Instead, we have a reliance on the old bridge to take buses, cyclists and pedestrians; a new bridge that relies on a hard shoulder to deal with breakdowns and diverted buses from the old bridge during high winds; and potentially, at some point in the future, trams. That is not the vision of a 21st-century crossing that we all had in mind, and it is certainly not fit for the next century.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

No, I would like to get through more of my speech.

We all agree that we need proper continuity for public transport on the crossing.

We were also told that the existing bridge was at risk of being closed in a matter of years because of corrosion in the cables and that time was running out, yet now the Government proposals are predicated on the structure being around for another 80 years. We need to do further work to find out exactly what the maintenance costs of continuing to use the existing bridge will be. Mr Stevenson has already admitted that there is a range of possibilities and probabilities for the deterioration of the bridge and that he does not know how bad it is. For example, we have no idea about the state of the anchorages. We are told that there is the possibility of a tram being put on the existing bridge, yet we know that that was rejected by Transport Scotland at the exhibitions that were held in Queensferry and elsewhere prior to the announcement of the decision that the new crossing would be a bridge and not a tunnel.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

For clarity, a key point of the statement that I made in December was that new work had established that it would be possible to put trams on the existing bridge.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

The minister must accept that one message was given out when it suited the Government. Since then, it has brought in another lot of consultants and given them another bung of money from the £100 million that has been spent so far to provide it with the answers that it wants. We need some clarity on what will be achieved and whether it will do what we need it to do on public transport and traffic continuity across the river.

The people are entitled to ask what we are getting for our money. The truth is that we are getting a lot less than we were promised and that the crossing will cost a lot more than comparable projects worldwide. The SNP has U-turned all over the place. In advance of the election, the First Minister said that he supported a tunnel. Uncertainty has dogged the funding of the project on the SNP's watch. Originally, we were told that it would be funded through Scots buying bonds. Then Fergus Ewing said that it would be paid for by not going ahead with the Edinburgh trams project and the Edinburgh airport rail link. The money for the Edinburgh airport rail link is not sitting in a vault somewhere, ready to be used for that purpose. Then we were assured by John Swinney that the Scottish Futures Trust would do the trick. We know that that is a load of rubbish.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I am sorry, but the member's time is up.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party 4:04 pm, 15th January 2009

I rise to support the motion in the name of John Swinney. I cannot help but mention the inherent irony in Des McNulty's amendment, which refers to

"the lack of prior consultation".

Many of us remember the lack of prior consultation by Gordon Brown during the Dunfermline West by-election, when he announced that any consideration by the Labour-Lib Dem Executive of a proposal for a £4-plus toll on the existing bridge was pointless because he was ruling it out—even though the decision was one for the Scottish Cabinet to make. That, it would seem, was the level of respect in new Labour for prior and proper consultation on devolved issues.

I almost felt sorry for Jeremy Purvis yesterday after the dispiriting and bruising defeat that he suffered during the budget debate. He then woke up this morning only to find that he had to try to defend a contradictory and incoherent amendment, so I almost felt sorry for him again today.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

No, I would like to make some progress first.

As the Lib Dem amendment says, the new Forth crossing may result in the displacement of

"a significant number of other very deserving capital projects" because of the—admittedly absurd—absence of borrowing powers. However, it is unbelievable that such an argument can be made with any sincerity by a party that is committed to carving £800 million out of the Scottish block every year. By my calculations, with £800 million we could build a bridge over the Forth for buses, a bridge for bikes and a bridge for cars, with enough money left over to build an airport on either side. As long as Tavish Scott was not in charge of the project, we could also have free coffee and newspapers for every commuter.

Even if inadvertently, the Lib Dem amendment highlights the key issue, which of course is the anomalous position of the Scottish Government in terms of its inability to fund large-scale capital projects in the same way as individuals, businesses, local government and national Governments the world over—by borrowing to invest. That is the real issue here, not whether there should be a bridge—all parties, with one honourable exception, believe that there should. Whether the bridge will be built is not an issue either, because the Scottish Government has confirmed its timetable and the fact that the money is available to build it. The issue is really about how the cost of the bridge should be funded. Thankfully, it appears that tolls have, if somewhat belatedly, been ruled out by new Labour. It would seem that iron man Iain Gray has overcome those such as David Whitton and Des McNulty who have refused to rule out tolls. Perhaps we can call that faction of the new Labour Party the tollies.

However, having adopted the love-child of the Tories and big business—PFI—and having showered it with gifts of hundreds of billions of pounds over a decade or more, the Labour Party, it seems, cannot let it go. Exactly how it could make PFI work on this project is not clear. Without tolls, there is no revenue bribe like that which made the Skye bridge, for example, such a lottery win for the Bank of America—and such a burden on taxpayers and toll payers. With the frozen credit markets, where would the private finance come from, and at what price? Most crucially, without the fig leaf of the off-balance-sheet con, what is the point of PFI?

On George Foulkes's "constructive" suggestions, I ask him to consider what funding a bridge project on such a scale would do to the capital projects of the local authorities that he mentions, particularly schools projects.

Having been on "Newsnight" with David Whitton, the deputy leader of the tollies, when he declared—solemnly and with an air of real menace—that he would ensure that the issues would come before the Parliament, I find it hard not to be a bit disappointed with the damp squib that is the new Labour amendment. I am also a bit disappointed by the unexplained absence of David Whitton. I do not know how significant that absence is.

Today's debate allows for three crucial points to be given prominence. First, the Scottish Government has ruled out tolls, and as a result has elicited a similar position from new Labour. Secondly, as the Tory amendment points out, it is now down to the two Governments "to work together" on the funding issue. Thirdly—and most important—borrowing powers have been brought into sharp relief.

Ironically, if we were talking about building a new Forth bridge, as opposed to a new Forth road bridge, borrowing would possibly be available through Network Rail's borrowing powers. That point seems to be lost on Jeremy Purvis.

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

No, I will not.

Local authorities have to undertake prudential borrowing, and it is worrying to think that the person who placed that obligation on them—Gordon Brown—is currently touting debt of about £1 trillion around the international money markets. That is not prudential, and it seems a long time since we heard about dear old prudence. In fact, it seems that, like the phrase "no more boom and bust", we are unlikely to hear the phrase "borrowing only to invest" from the lips of Gordon Brown again.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

The member was active in local government, so he will be aware that one way to deal with large capital projects is to put money aside for a certain amount of time and to balance that with the borrowing. Why does the Government not use the put aside money that it inherited as a down payment on the Forth crossing?

Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

That is not the way that I remember local authority funding working. I remember the capital budgets being squeezed from the moment that Labour got into power and being kept at the same level, which produced pressures on revenue budgets as well.

Apparently, the only time that it is not right to borrow is when we need to invest in the Forth road bridge—it appears to be right in every other circumstance to give banks billions of pounds. I believe that it is necessary for all parties that are represented in the chamber to declare unequivocally that they support the establishment of borrowing powers for the Parliament as soon as possible. The absence of such powers is a fundamental and inexplicable fetter on the Parliament's ability properly to create and nurture the public infrastructure assets that the country needs. If this debate is to have any purpose, the Parliament must use it to make it clear to Gordon Brown that we are as united as we can be on the view that we should have the fundamental right to borrow to invest in Scotland's long-term future.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour 4:10 pm, 15th January 2009

All my political life in Scotland, I have consistently argued for a second bridge across the Forth, even when I have been ridiculed by the media and others in the Parliament. The Tories in Fife have not always supported an additional crossing. In addition, Mr Harvie is simply wrong: without a second Forth road bridge, economic development in the north- east of Scotland will be at huge risk and the region will be at a disadvantage.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Helen Eadie reminds us that she has been an advocate of a second road bridge all her political life, which is far longer than the few years that we have known about the corrosion. I presume that she is arguing for increased road capacity rather than merely a replacement bridge. Is that the case?

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

I have always argued for enhanced roads and public transport. As the roads and public transport spokesperson for Fife Council, I argued that we should have much greater investment in public transport. However, looking at the SNP manifesto, I see that the SNP has mismanaged that over the past year and a half that it has been in office.

I have the honour of having in my constituency the northern ends of both iconic bridges that cross the Forth, and the northern end of the third bridge will also be in Dunfermline East. I was, therefore, disappointed that I was unable to attend the recent briefing for MSPs, which was held in one of the hotels near the Parliament. Commitments in the Scottish Parliament made my attendance impossible. I very much hope that the minister will arrange for those MSPs who were in the chamber that day or who had other commitments to have a further briefing at a mutually convenient time for all parties.

We all agree that funding for the new crossing is vital. Trish Marwick was being disingenuous, or at best economical with the truth, in her diatribe. We were told not just by John Swinney but by Alex Salmond that the Scottish Futures Trust would provide a suitable form of funding and that the new crossing was in the SNP's manifesto. However, we have still not heard the outcome of the cabinet secretary's consideration of using European regional development funding to develop what is a trans-European network route. When did the minister seek a meeting with European Union commissioners to discuss the issue? When has he discussed the matter with the EU Commissioner for Transport and with the European Parliament? The absence of an application from the Scottish Government for funding for this critical route across the Forth, which has trans-European network status, is a glaring omission.

We need to consider a number of issues regarding the existing crossing. The Scottish Government has claimed that the existing bridge can carry light rail and guided buses. Having taken soundings on the matter, I have no doubt that a structurally sound bridge will, in the future, be able to carry various modes of public transport. However, that brings me to the nub of the issue—how structurally sound will the existing bridge be in the future? FETA is considering ways to examine the condition of the concrete anchorages on either side of the Forth that connect to the two cables. Those are huge structures, and it will take some innovative and costly activity to assess their stability.

The whole premise for building a new bridge was the fact that the existing crossing was under threat. We were told that the cables were corroding at a rate that meant that, in the worst-case scenario, the bridge would have to close to HGVs by 2014. I had a briefing in the Scottish Parliament from the former bridgemaster, Alistair Andrews. I saw the internal state of the cables and heard his concerns about the unknown extent of the rust and corrosion, and it was absolutely clear to me that it was inevitable that we would need a replacement bridge, not just an additional bridge. We have recently had better news on that front. We have been told that the dehumidification process is working and that the closure date has been moved, as Marilyn Livingstone stated. However, importantly, we will not know how successful the dehumidification process has been until 2011.

Ruling out multimodal capacity on the new crossing before one can say for sure whether the cables on the existing bridge will be okay is, at best, a high-risk strategy. Replacing the existing cables would be a significant engineering project. Of course, it could be done, but because of potential costs and safety considerations the most likely scenario would be complete closure of the bridge so that the main cables could be replaced. That could not happen until the new crossing was fully operational—in other words, until 2016—and would mean that the public transport or high-occupancy vehicle routes that are planned for the current bridge would also have to be put on hold.

Few would dispute the claim that the bridge is the most important infrastructure project in Scotland for a generation. It is certainly the most expensive project that Scotland will see over the next decade or so, and I believe that some serious questions need to be asked about the projected costs.

We know that the existing bridge will no longer be fit for purpose much earlier than projected and that the number of journeys across the Forth will increase in the coming years. Both bridges should be multimodal, with one carrying traffic north and the other south. The legacy of this SNP Government will be its paucity of ambition. Its actions contrast sharply with those of the Danish and French Governments, which have provided their countries with hugely magnificent crossings. Alex Salmond will go down in history as a cut-price leader who did not recognise the value of going for the best that could be provided in order to future-proof Scotland.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 4:16 pm, 15th January 2009

In dissenting on this issue, I had expected to be a lone voice in the wilderness. However, given the determination of the advocates of an additional bridge to disagree violently with each other on every issue that they can find, I feel much more comfortable.

Murdo Fraser used the metaphor of a drug addict, continually looking for the next fix, to describe two Governments locked in an unhealthy relationship that is characterised by abusive falling-outs. In fact, I use the same metaphor for road builders: "Go on—just one more infrastructure project. I need it to support my economy." The situation is infuriating and all too familiar.

Let me be clear: a road crossing on the east of the Forth remains and will remain a vital part of our transport infrastructure. What I object to is this Government's decision, supported by all the other political parties bar my own, to press ahead with a proposal that will cost a vast sum of money before the reparability of the existing bridge has been fully examined.

At the moment, the arguments in favour of an extra bridge are supposedly justified by concerns about the integrity of the existing Forth road bridge. Apart from the notable exception of Helen Eadie, we have largely been asked to ignore the fact that the advocates of an extra bridge were making their case long before corrosion on the existing bridge was ever an issue. I have to say, though, that Helen Eadie dropped her guard a wee bit at the end of her speech when she said that any decision should be based on the viability of the existing bridge. That has never been her basis for supporting an extra bridge over the Forth.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

I assure the member that I never supported the building of a second bridge until the viability of the existing bridge was called into question. However, what do we do if we wait until the tests are conducted, find out that the bridge is unsustainable and cannot continue in its present form, and then have to close it? How do we fill the gap when the people of Fife and the north of Scotland are left with no alternative crossing?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

That was indeed a hard question to answer this time last year, or even six months ago when the issue of corrosion was still being addressed. However, the corrosion situation is looking better; the dehumidification appears to be working. Indeed, FETA has told us that the date at which the existing bridge might have to close to HGVs—not close altogether, as I believe the cabinet secretary might inadvertently have indicated—has slipped back. We should use the additional time to gather the information that we need about the existing bridge.

Let us consider the problems and the solutions. The problem of the increasing damage to the existing bridge has not come from nowhere. There is no mysterious, magical force that is forcing bridges around the world to close. Additional damage is being done by additional traffic. I am not aware of any attempt that has been made to examine properly ideas about reducing traffic, traffic management, using existing alternative crossings or switching freight from road to rail. Marilyn Livingstone argued that a new bridge ought to be future proofed, but the existing road bridge was probably thought to be future proofed when it was built. The bridge's problems result from the increasing loads that we have put on it. I am not talking about a law of nature; I am talking about a set of choices that we have made about how we use our road infrastructure.

Marilyn Livingstone also argued that the new bridge would be full on the day on which it opened. We cannot have things both ways. We can say either that congestion and increasing damage to our roads and bridges are the result of too much traffic, or that they are the result of not enough roads and bridges.

Photo of Marilyn Livingstone Marilyn Livingstone Labour

I think that I said that that was why I support the light rail and multimodal option and that there should be more public transport journeys across the Forth.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I welcome Marilyn Livingstone's intervention.

I will support the Labour amendment, although it does not go as far as I would like it to. If we discover in the future that a new bridge is necessary, there should, of course, be a multimodal element. However, we must achieve fewer road crossings and more public transport crossings, not more of everything. The argument is exactly the same as that which we have about rail versus air transport. If we simply give in to the business lobby and the Confederation of British Industry, which has argued this week that the new bridge must have more capacity—

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

The member has one minute left. I tell him that because the clock is wrong.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

If we argue that the new bridge should have more capacity, we will have more of everything. We will have a higher rather than a lower level of emissions. As I said, we need to have fewer road crossings and more public transport crossings.

I cannot support either of the other amendments.

The issue is timing. I ask members to consider their own homes. If a member had been told a few months ago that their roof might fall in, and they were mulling over the remortgaging options to repair it and someone came along and said, "Actually, I think that I can fix it," surely they would give them the chance to come back with a report on whether they could do so for a lower amount of money than would be needed to repair it. All that I ask members to do is consider that. Let us fix the bridge that we have, for goodness' sake.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party 4:23 pm, 15th January 2009

No hurricane that might hit any future Forth bridge would appear to be anything like the weather conditions that surround not only the immediate business of its funding, but the situation in the finance markets of the world. We have seen the mysteries of high finance become hocus-pocus schemes that make 1920s American fraudsters seem mere amateurs. Therefore, I want to make a plea and argue for a return to barter from finance.

I say that for two reasons. First, the kingdom of Fife is nowadays one of the major industrial centres of Scotland. It is a heavily urbanised area, which really ought to be a city; if it were, it would, with a population of more than 300,000, be the third largest city in Scotland. In Rosyth, Burntisland and Methil, Fife also has a heavy to medium industrial base that is potentially the best sited and most efficient in Britain for the exploitation of new renewables. That it even has a firm—Burntisland Fabrications Ltd—that has set up a subsidiary in Germany is amazing. I have not heard of that sort of export from Scotland for a long time.

Members must remember that when the original or old Forth road bridge was built in the 1960s, it was constructed from steel from Motherwell and Cleveland, and its wire ropes came from Musselburgh—where the rope works have been transmogrified into yet another Tesco. The components of the new bridge will probably have to be almost wholly imported in a period in which peak oil and the $200 barrel of oil—briefly away, for the moment—are likely to loom again and mean that carbon costs will be a major problem if we delay. On the other hand, I believe that the bridge can be packaged and prioritised with other of the Government's infrastructure, renewables, and reindustrialisation priorities to make it an efficient form of political and economic barter. So, may I suggest a wider funding horizon?

The Scottish Government is committed to a nuclear-free and industrially strong Scotland, and that coincides with something that people in Europe would not have imagined a decade ago— reindustrialisation. The amount of investment in productive industry—metal bashing, as the City used to sneer—has gone up, notably in Germany. In Baden-Württemberg, industrial production is now 35 per cent whereas it was 30 per cent a decade ago. To a great extent, that growth stems from renewable energy.

Now, Scotland is the powerhouse for such industry. Along our Atlantic coast could come the sort of renewable energy for which Germany is in desperate need. Out of Norway, the wise virgin that conserved its oil power, a pensions fund is accumulating hundreds of millions of pounds. Germany has the technology, training, solar and wind power, but it remains desperate for wave and tidal energy. So, in addition to the borrowing powers that any sensible British Government will concede to a Scottish Government—as its fans in the Calman commission are pleading with it to do—should we not make a pitch to the people in Europe who need our power to give us the necessary infrastructural investment and technological assistance?

Over and above all that, we must plan to use the period when the bridge is under construction. We must use the bridge works. The most famous Scottish engineer, Thomas Telford, described every one of his great projects as a true "working academy" for the nation. The bridge could be our means of retechnologising the country and, from a narrow Fife perspective, it could mean the creation of a new Scottish city.

Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat 4:27 pm, 15th January 2009

It has been an interesting afternoon. We have heard a number of comments about Westminster's response and duty, but surely the Scottish Government is responsible for coming to Parliament with a properly worked-out scheme. Shirley-Anne Somerville said that the issue should transcend politics, but I am not sure how she squares that with her Government's approach to the Treasury. Like Murdo Fraser, I think it is likely that the SNP, spoiling for a fight as usual, cynically chose to use one of the most important projects for a generation to curdle relations between Westminster and Holyrood. People are fed up with that way of doing business. They expect and deserve their Government to put Scotland's needs ahead of the Scottish National Party's quest for independence.

The cabinet secretary usefully outlined the options that he had considered for funding the bridge, but surely he should have invested whatever time was necessary during the past 18 months in serious discussion with the Treasury about how to fund the project without jeopardising other key projects in Scotland. Sending a letter to the Treasury at the end of November was not nearly sufficient for such an important project.

The Government has prematurely plumped for an approach that, by its own admission, means that

"a significant number of other very deserving capital projects will have to be displaced".—[Official Report, Written Answers, 14 January 2008; S3W-19919.]

Given that answer, communities deserve to know what the Government has in mind. That is why the Scottish Liberal Democrats' amendment calls for the Government to produce a prioritised list of capital projects. Without such prioritisation, how can the renewal and investment in infrastructure be taken forward smoothly?

We can guess why there is this creeping paralysis. The Government is not popular when it says no to people, as Richard Lochhead discovered during the past week. Even if saying no is not popular, that is the only honest way to go about it. Councils, communities and the business sector all have a right to know when, if ever, infrastructure projects will see the light of day.

Stewart Stevenson has said—rather astonishingly—that priority in the STPR is unimportant. In response to questions from the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee on 16 December last year regarding the lack of prioritisation in the STPR, he said:

"The order is not important; what is important is that we proceed with the 29 priority projects that we wish to undertake at a strategic national level ... The order in which they will happen will be influenced by what happens in the future. Comprehensive spending reviews, the ability of civil engineering to respond to our needs and the preparatory work that is required will determine, as we understand more detail of each project, when and how we can proceed with them and implement them."

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I do not wish to fall out with Alison McInnes, but how does the current transport minister's approach to a priority list differ from that of Mr Scott when he was transport minister?

Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat

A major infrastructure project is about to swallow all the capital spend that is available, so we really need prioritisation.

When pressed on developing the detail that he said that he needed, Mr Stevenson said:

"We have to engage with the regional transport partnerships and councils to develop the details of our interventions. On the road network, we have already said that our future programme is dominated by the Forth crossing, which will take a large proportion of our work to 2016. In the next few years, we will engage to determine what we have to do on the other projects."

It is worth repeating that he said:

"In the next few years, we will engage to determine what we have to do on the other projects."—[Official Report, Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, 16 December 2008; c 1167-69.]

I look forward to the minister's explanation of why he is not engaging now on those important projects. Does the lack of prioritisation mean that the Government does not intend to progress anything else before 2016—not even at the drawing board?

We have had no public explanation of what will be displaced. Surely we should know what criteria will be applied in making such decisions. I know that the matter is being considered. For example, the transport minister suggested to the north east of Scotland transport partnership recently that improvements to the Inveramsay bridge and the Haudagain roundabout in Aberdeen were prime targets for such deferral. Do Alex Salmond and his constituents know about that? The First Minister pledged to them that sorting out the Inveramsay bridge would be a priority project.

Other concerns about the new proposals have been expressed this afternoon. Margaret Smith talked about road connections and multimodality. Des McNulty and Marilyn Livingstone, among others, are concerned about the move away from having a multimodal bridge. I share the concerns about the new bargain-basement treatment of public transport. As Jeremy Purvis said, John Swinney was adamant on 9 September 2008 that the new bridge would be multimodal.

Photo of Alison McInnes Alison McInnes Liberal Democrat

No—I want to move on.

Only 13 weeks after 9 September, Parliament was told that the new slimline bridge was the best answer. Does anyone else worry that the only driver for that change of heart was the urgent need to reduce the tab? The phrase, "For the want o' a ha'p'orth of tar, the ship was lost," comes to mind.

Many members have pointed out the contradictions. On the one hand, we are told that the new bridge must proceed because of the state of the existing bridge and, on the other hand, we are told that it is okay to put public transport on the existing bridge. I appreciate that issues relate to loading, but it is not good enough to invest vast sums of public money in a new bridge that will operate beyond 2050—when we hope to be well into our new low-carbon future—and which has no public transport capacity.

One effect of the funding decision is that it has highlighted how worthless the STPR is. No one really knows what is going ahead and we do not know what will be worked up first. We need more clarity. The wish list needs to become a proper working document. For that to happen, the Government needs to prioritise projects. That is what being in government used to be about—taking difficult decisions.

I urge ministers to enter meetings with the Treasury with an open mind and to be prepared to find a solution that is best for Scotland as a whole.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 4:34 pm, 15th January 2009

When the minority Government arrived in office, it had immediately to set about the process of building bridges. It is ironic that it has interpreted that literally.

The Conservatives have worked to support elements of Government policy on the Forth bridge from an early stage. We worked with the Government to remove tolls from the Forth bridge and we have been perhaps the most enthusiastic supporters of building a second Forth road bridge, fundamentally to replace the existing bridge.

There are those who believe that additional capacity is extremely important. In fact, the Conservatives have a long track record in that regard. While in Government in the early 1990s, we made major land purchase decisions that indicated our intention to move ahead with additional capacity over the Forth.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

Not at this point.

We then went through a series of policy changes and changes of Government that resulted in other priorities being brought forward. However, the discovery of engineering problems in the Forth bridge focused the minds of members of the Scottish Parliament, other politicians and engineers alike on how to deal with the matter should the problems become insurmountable.

Members have presented those engineering issues in a number of different ways. I was glad to hear Helen Eadie mention Alastair Andrew, the former bridge master who has now retired. In the past, I was lucky enough to meet him on more than one occasion. He is one of the greatest sources of information on the bridge and on the dangers that lie ahead.

We have heard much about the biggest single problem that faces us: corrosion in the bridge cables. We are told that the dehumidification process appears to be working. However, unlike some who believe that that process may reverse corrosion in the cables, the Conservatives believe that that will not happen. If we can slow down the rate of corrosion, we will extend the lifespan of the bridge, but dehumidification will neither reverse the corrosion nor repair it.

As a consequence, the current problems with the bridge will not go away. There is also the on- going problem with wires in the cables snapping not as a result of corrosion but because the process of rolling the wires to form the cables over 40 years ago may have been flawed. In addition, there is the potential problem of the anchorage points. The problem is not yet fully understood, but there are engineering risks in that regard that may yet cause us to consider bridge replacement.

The bridge is flawed and will continue to suffer from on-going damage, not only because of its construction method but because of increased traffic volumes. There is a choice that we have to make. Des McNulty described it as a paradox, and I agree with his interpretation. The paradox is this: do we go ahead and build a bridge in the knowledge that it may be required, or do we wait until we know that a new bridge is required and then begin to build a new one? The members who contributed to the debate fall into two distinct groups: those who believe that we should wait and see and those who believe that we should go ahead now and plan for a new bridge. In that respect, the Government has our full support.

Deciding on the option of building a lower-priced bridge and making extensive multimodal use of the existing bridge has resulted in a significant cost reduction, which makes it a worthwhile option to pursue. However, given what members have said in the chamber today, we must look further at the multimodal option. Some individuals take the extraordinary line of saying, "We do not need another bridge but, if we are to have one, can we have the expensive option?"—I know that because I have spoken to them. The argument is not only extraordinary but irrational. When I come across it, I dismiss it.

However, in many of the profound speeches in the debate, members said that, if we are to build the bridge, the multimodal option should be involved. I have this to say to those who believe in a new multimodal bridge: before going down that road, we must consider the cost and the impact of the cost. The Conservatives are not prepared to commit to the much higher level of expenditure that a multimodal bridge would require when the option of reusing the existing bridge to provide that multimodal option is ahead of us.

We know that challenges lie ahead of us. As the new bridge is completed and traffic is moved off the existing bridge, the challenge will be to refurbish and rebuild elements of the existing bridge. That challenge lies in the future—indeed, it will lie further in the future if we agree now on replacing the existing bridge. If we build the replacement, the old bridge's lifespan will be considerably increased, which gives us options for the future.

We have had an extensive debate today on funding and funding mechanisms. I believe that, on balance, the cabinet secretary has clearly stated how the bridge will be funded, and that the funding for the bridge will be in place. However, the cabinet secretary has not accounted for how the massive gap in capital will be filled once the huge elephant in the room, the new Forth bridge, has taken up its place. Time has gone by, and we know how the bridge will be funded, but we do not know how the funding will be replaced within capital budgets.

There are calls for various things in the amendments. It is ironic that two of them, those from Labour and the Liberal Democrats, seem to take out the commitment not to toll the new bridge. That is why the Conservatives cannot support those amendments.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I am afraid that the member's time is up.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour 4:41 pm, 15th January 2009

Over the past few months and years, we have watched the unravelling of the Scottish Futures Trust, and today's debate marks the end of it as a meaningful Government policy. I will explain why in a minute.

Many members have already dealt with some key aspects of the Scottish Futures Trust. It is the mark of this debate that I am left convinced that the Government is not sure what to build and why it is building it. It has clearly lost its mechanism for funding the project—the Scottish Futures Trust. I share Murdo Fraser's view that the Government is seeking to blame someone else for its own fiscal incompetence. Ministers must be prepared to admit that it is their actions that are causing pressure on capital budgets across Scotland and which will lead to other projects being cancelled. Unless the Government reinvents the financial strategy called the Scottish Futures Trust and makes it work, its argument about its so-called rational approach to the Treasury will not stack up. That goes back to Murdo Fraser's point—that the Government's argument seeks to disguise the fact that it could not get its proposal to work.

The First Minister said at question time today:

"when a minister gives a commitment, that commitment is met. That is how the process works."

Those words will come back to haunt him in many different ways, particularly in relation to the Scottish Futures Trust. It is not other ministers but the First Minister himself who is on record as saying:

"If we have a new bridge, a bond issue is definitely the way to do it."

Even though he said today that

"when a minister gives a commitment, that commitment is met", we know that, on this occasion, that is not the case.

Fergus Ewing said:

"Financing the scheme through a bond issue under the SNP's proposed Scottish Futures Trust is seen by experts"—

I say that laughingly; I do not know who they were—

"as significantly cheaper" and the

"preferred option ... a replacement crossing is vital, we must ensure that we use" that method. Again, even though the First Minister said today that

"when a minister gives a commitment, that commitment is met", that is not the case here.

Mr Swinney, too, is guilty. The Herald reported:

"Mr Swinney said the government intended to use the planned Scottish Futures Trust to pay for the bridge as an alternative to the Public Private Partnership."

Of course, we all know that the Government cannot get the Scottish Futures Trust to work, and that it has shrivelled away to a minor quango, which will merely draw together some projects, doing a job that our civil service used to do—without the £23 million that will be necessary to fund the SFT. From that great idea of Scots all buying their patriotic bonds and the Scottish Futures Trust crowding out all other funding methods, the SFT is now reduced to being something whose purpose is, as Mr Swinney said on "Good Morning Scotland",

"to essentially bring about collaboration between different projects of a smaller scale."

Gone is the mighty idea that was the Scottish Futures Trust.

As we have progressed through the debate, members have pointed those matters out. On the exchange between Jeremy Purvis and Stewart Stevenson about the details of various websites that they had sought to use in evidence, I never knew that accounting could be so exciting. However, everyone in the street, and indeed everyone in the financial industries in Scotland, including contractors and consultants, knows that the Scottish Futures Trust is doomed to failure.

Many other members rightly pointed to the need for a multimodal shift.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Would Mr Kerr share with us his prognosis on PFI once the international financial reporting standards come into effect?

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

The cabinet secretary fails to recognise that we have not advocated the use of PPP for the Forth road crossing. If he is willing to open the books, I would be happy to come to a conclusion on the matter. We have said that the crowding-out mechanism of the Scottish Futures Trust has not worked. It is the cabinet secretary and his Government that are endangering our hospitals, schools and roads.

On the viability of PPP, I point out that the Limehouse link, the docklands light railway and the Jubilee line used traditional funding mechanisms but were massively over budget and hugely late. Why does the cabinet secretary think that the traditional model that he describes will somehow work perfectly? If we read the National Audit Office's report comparing PPP projects with traditional models, we find that 70 per cent of the traditional models unfortunately came in over budget and not within the required timescale.

There are many benefits to the use of PPP, such as risk transfer and certainty of delivery. I state again—for the record and so that the cabinet secretary understands it clearly—that I am not advocating its use for the Forth replacement crossing. However, he and his Government have ruled out that mechanism of finance, which leads them to try to blame Westminster for the lack of delivery that will result on other infrastructure projects.

Many other members also asked what happened to the £900 million of end-year flexibility that should have been put into the project—perhaps the cabinet secretary can deal with that point when he intervenes. We all knew that the bridge was the biggest project set to hit the capital budget in Scotland and that it had to be funded. However, £900 million came up the road to Scotland and is now gone; £650 million was saved in the budget from the Edinburgh airport rail link and is now gone. What exactly has the cabinet secretary done with the money and why was he not planning for the biggest ever project that the Government would have to deal with?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The £900 million of EYF was invested in the public infrastructure and services of Scotland to compensate for the worst increase in spending in Scotland since devolution took place: 0.5 per cent above inflation in 2008-09. If Mr Kerr cares to check the facts, he will find that that is absolutely correct. Will he answer my question: what is his prognosis for PFI in the light of the IFRS?

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

I apologise, but I will need to wait for what the Treasury has to say about that. However it chooses to deal with the rules on PPP/PFI, the fact that it is off balance sheet is not the only reason why one would entertain the use of that financial mechanism. Whatever the Treasury says on the matter, it does not matter for the bridge because there are other methods of funding projects that deliver for the taxpayer far more safely.

On the cabinet secretary's first point, the SNP has the biggest ever Scottish budget, the additional EYF money and money saved in budgets all over the place but, when it wrote its manifesto and said that the bridge would be funded by the Scottish Futures Trust, it knew that this was the biggest project that it would have to deal with. Of course, it now knows that it cannot deliver and has sought to blame Westminster for its own incompetence.

We have talked about childish games—I think that Tricia Marwick brought that up. The Labour Party is not being childish about this important project. For two years, the SNP said that it had a funding mechanism and then, two weeks before it made the announcement, sent a letter to the Treasury. I have asked before what engagement Scottish Government finance officials had with Treasury officials prior to that letter being sent, because I am sure that they knew the answer in advance.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

I would like to move on.

On rewriting history, I found it ironic when some members criticised PPP. They should have attended some of the previous debates in the Parliament. Unison, the Cuthberts and Allyson Pollock all have equal criticism and condemnation of the original Scottish Futures Trust model. Indeed, the cabinet secretary was forced to admit that it was simply a member of the PFI/PPP family.

Murdo Fraser asked whether the Government was incompetent, attempting to bounce the Treasury into saying yes or even hoping that it would say no. I share his view that it is some, if not all, of the above. The Government sought to have a fight with Westminster to get a scapegoat. As we all understand, sending a letter to the Treasury 14 days in advance of the debate was simply unacceptable.

I would have liked to reflect on many other speeches, but I have run out of time.

The mighty Scottish Futures Trust and the patriotic bonds have shrivelled away to an expensive quango, doing a job that civil servants used to do. In no way is anyone other than the cabinet secretary and his colleagues responsible for any impact on the budgets for schools, hospitals and roads, which have been put at risk. They are responsible—it is their incompetence.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 4:50 pm, 15th January 2009

Let me treat this somewhat didactically for the hard of hearing and the hard of heeding. I will talk about policy, finance and the capability of the new crossing. I hope that I will have time to respond to as many members as I can.

The policy has not changed: it is to have multimodal capability between Edinburgh and Fife. What has changed is the implementation of the policy in the light of the innovative and exciting work that is being done by the professional engineers in Transport Scotland. It is an implementation that will deliver a huge financial benefit and simultaneously open up for future Administrations further capacity options, if they so choose. This Administration's option is to deliver a replacement for the capacity of the bridge that was opened in 1964, but the design gives us the opportunity—in particular in relation to public transport—to increase capacity and reliability and to deliver the kind of public transport intervention, particularly for buses, that we have not seen for a generation.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

The minister has implied—I think that I am right in saying that it is on the record for the first time—that under his scheme future Administrations will have the choice of increasing road capacity between the two Forth crossings by using the existing crossing. If his climate change targets mean anything at all, surely he needs a system in place to prevent that from happening. Will he guarantee that the SNP would never support such a scheme? How will he prevent future Administrations from doing so?

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I am sure that the member will have read the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill, so he will know that it provides for predictions as to how much carbon we must eliminate from our economy. That is precisely the handcuff on future policy making in a range of areas that the member might care to look at.

On the subject of finance, I say to everyone: the bridge is safe, the finance is safe and the finance is known. For those who are hard of hearing, I say more loudly: the bridge is safe, the finance is safe and we know where we are going. Finally, for the hard of heeding: the bridge is safe, the funding is safe and we know where it is coming from. It is coming from the Government.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I am grateful to the minister for giving way. On the reduction in the cost estimates for the current Government's solution, what proportion of that reduction is owing to the funding mechanism that it has now opted for?

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Choosing a funding mechanism that comes from our own resources is clearly the best value for money. That is a significant change from using mechanisms such as a lease and a shadow toll, or PPP. The funding mechanism that we have selected means that there is a significant change in the price. Now, does Mr Fraser wish to—

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. My point of order is relevant to the Presiding Officer's statement earlier today. In this debate, not only the cabinet secretary—

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

No, sorry. I will not take a point of debate dressed up as a point of order. Can you sit down, please?

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

May you hear the point of order first, Presiding Officer, before you rule on it?

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

You can make the point of order at the end of the debate, or you can write to me and we will adjudicate on it. I am not taking the point of order just now. We will conclude the debate.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. Standing orders do say—there is no question about it—that, if a point of order is raised, it must be heard and proceedings must stop.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Mr Rumbles, if you look at standing orders, you will see that points of order should not be on the subject under debate and that they must be points of order and not points of debate. I call Murdo Fraser.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Thank you, Presiding Officer. Perhaps we could return to the subject of the debate. I want to put to the minister an important point that has not yet been addressed by a minister during the debate. Why was there such a delay in ministers' seeking Treasury approval? Why was approval sought only 14 days before the announcement that was made in December? Was that due to incompetence or was there another, more sinister reason for it?

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Within a very short time of Cabinet's concluding the shape of this project, we approached the Treasury. That was the right time to do it and the right way to do it.

I very much welcome the open approach that I think is being taken by the Treasury. We expect to have fruitful and useful discussions when Mr Swinney and I meet the Treasury team in the next few weeks.

I turn to the capability of the bridge. First, the bridge provides replacement capacity for freight vehicles and the private car—two lanes in each direction. However, we will enhance the weather proofing compared to the existing bridge. On the Severn, the modern bridge hardly ever closes—it probably never closes—in comparison with the old bridge. We will see the same on the Forth.

Similarly, the provision of a hard shoulder means that breakdowns and accidents will interfere less with the operation of the bridge.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

I asked about European funding, but the minister did not respond to that in his remarks on funding.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

We explored that without success.

I return to capability. The old bridge was built with a 120-year life. That lifespan was predicated on a number of things: first, that we would not have corrosion in the cables; and secondly, that we would have a much lower utilisation than we have currently. It is interesting that those responsible for the Severn crossing responded early to the design capacity point being reached; they have similar utilisation on two bridges across the Severn.

Today, we are faced with a bridge that is approaching the safety point and which is continuing to deteriorate simply through use. The kind of vehicles that are carried on the bridge are very different from the vehicles that were carried on it when it first opened.

In the limited time available, I will try to respond to members' points. I very much welcomed Derek Brownlee's acceptance of the funding model that we have adopted. That is useful and sensible.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

Order. There are far too many conversations going on.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Marilyn Livingstone got to the nub of it when she said that the case is made for a new crossing. The multimodal capability is there.

George Foulkes conflated funding and project management. The problem with the Parliament was not the funding mechanism but the project management. He raised the issue of local authority borrowing. The difficulty is that, under the adoption of international financial reporting standards, that would have to be on the balance sheet of local authorities at the outset—exactly the same problem as PFI and exactly the same problem with borrowing.

Murdo Fraser quoted Churchill, who, I think, also said:

"Prediction is difficult, especially for the future."

That is certainly true of the deterioration of the bridge, but we cannot take a gamble that things will magically come right.

I say to Margaret Smith that we have been advertising this week in The Scotsman, the Metro and other papers the substantial engagement that there will be with communities.

Even Patrick Harvie said that a road crossing remains an important part of our transport infrastructure. I thought that that was important and interesting.

Chris Harvie suggested that a barter approach might be of value. That is very interesting, but perhaps we will not look at that immediately.

In 1935, my great-uncle was the chairman of the campaign committee for the Forth road bridge. He anticipated that 6,000 vehicles a day would cross the bridge. Today, we have 11 times that number crossing the bridge. The world has changed since 1935—and since 1964. I commend the motion in my colleague's name to the Parliament.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

That concludes the debate. Jeremy Purvis has a point of order.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I am grateful to you, Presiding Officer. The Deputy Presiding Officer refused to hear my point of order. I simply seek clarification of whether, in your ruling at lunch time, you were referring to answers to written parliamentary questions as well as to answers to oral questions in the chamber.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I will not deny that, but it will be for the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee—I reiterate, in its procedural role—to determine what it wants to consider. However, I do not rule that out. It will be up to the committee.