Another Holyrood?

The PR spending disaster that was the building of the Holyrood parliament will forever haunt major public works in Scotland. Every time a large and expensive project comes along, oponents will just shout “Holyrood” to justify their opposition.

But there are a few things about Holyrood that rarely get mentioned.

First of all, the original quote of £40m was based on a parliament building to house 129 MSPs and 129 associated staff. It never occured to the original designers that maybe there may be more people in there than that. So of course, the building needed to be bigger and so up went the costs.

Secondly, and this rarely gets mentioned, after 9/11 Westminster introduced much tougher rules for the construction of new public buildings. They had to be constructed from much tougher bomb-proof materials than had been previously been the case. And of course these things don’t come cheap and had not been taken into account in the original price.

Obviously there is way more to the whole debacle than the two points above, but it is far too simplistic to use Holyrood as an excuse not to build trams, or anything else. Otherwise we would never ever build anything ever again, not a motorway, a bridge, a railway line or even a by-pass.

And of course, you never hear those who go on about the costs of the tram system say anything about the stupendous and ever-increasing costs of the new Forth crossing or the M74.

But it is impossible to get consistency from the anti-tram lobby.

SNP claim costs “out of control”. Proved wrong.

Stewart Stevenson said on 30th May: The costs of the trams project are “running out of control”.

Tavish Scott replied: “I do hope the government can absolutely demonstrate what advice Mr Stevenson got to make that remark in public.”

They couldn’t. They just had Kenny MacAskill’s word for it.

Audit Scotland report, 20th June: “The current anticipated final cost of Phase 1 in its entirety is £593.8 million and estimated project costs have been subjected to robust testing.” The project benefits from “clearly defined project management and organisation”, “sound financial management and reporting” and has “procedures in place to actively manage risks associated with the project”.

On what basis did Stewart Stevenson make that statement on 30 May? He is now the Finance Minister. Government Ministers cannot go around making wild accusations like that. The SNP is no longer in opposition.

Does Alex Salmond know how things work?

This must surely be the daftest thing anyone in high office, running a country, has ever said:

From the Scotsman, “But First Minister Alex Salmond questioned why so much money had been spent so far on the (tram) scheme without a single track being laid“.

First of all some facts:

As at June 2007, £79m has been spent to date on the trams.

This is the figure that seems to so astonish Mr Salmond.

BUT does he expect the tramlines to be built BEFORE any surveying work was carried out, BEFORE a business case had been prepared, BEFORE the route had been devised, BEFORE any environmental impact assessment had been done and BEFORE parliamentary approval had been given?

As an example, it cost £17m putting the two tram bills through parliament (all these figures, by the way, are from Audit Scotland).

Alex Salmond therefore must fall into one of the following categories:

1. He genuinely does not know how much transport projects cost.

2. He genuinely believes that you build a tram first, and then think about the costs/routes etc afterwards.

3. He is just being populist and jumping on an anti tram bandwagen.

Surely it can’t be either 1. or 2. can it? The man now runs the country!

The project has been scaled back…

This myth is kind of true, but not really.

To see this in context, we need to compare the tram project to the M74 (as an example).

For the M74, the Executive said “go away and build a motorway, don’t worry about how much it will cost”. For the trams, they said “here is £500 million, go away and build a tram network. If it costs more than that, tough cookies”.

Very much double standards for the tram project.

The entire costs of building lines 1 and 2 (excluding the extension to Newbridge) is about £650m. However, unlike for other transport projects where there is no limit on how much can be spent, the Executive has given the council a fixed amount of £500m. The council itself has put in £45m (much of this has come from developers as planning gain).

This means that there is currently only a budget of £545m. So at the present time only one section of the 2 routes is being built. They have chosen to build in the first instance only the route that is predicted to be the most heavily used, ie. on the currently very congested route that roughly mirrors the number 22 route.

Just as soon as more funds are available, the rest of the network will be built.

This sounds sensible to me.

Ironically, the same people who go on about it being a tramLINE and not a network are often the same ones who scream about costs spiralling out of control.

The truth is, the council are only building what they can afford to at the moment.

Tram costs on track – official

The argument has been going around for years that for some reason the costs of the trams will over run. People bandy about the figure of £1billion.

The SNP, arch opponents of the tram system clearly fell for this, using it as an excuse to scrap the whole project. To give a veneer to their opposition, they commissioned Audit Scotland to look at the tram project (and the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link) to assess the finances. Read about that decision on the BBC. Strange how they didn’t commission similar reports into the projects that they supported, such as the M74 and the Aberdeen Western By-pass, and how they scrapped tolls on the Forth Bridge without looking at the cost implications.

As widely anticipated, Audit Scotland’s report gave the tram project a healthy bill of health. It is coming on on time and on budget.

The whole report can be found here. The bit about trams starts on page 10.

If you want to just read the press release outlining the main findings, click here.

But the main findings were:

• The current anticipated final cost of Phase 1 in its entirety is £593.8 million and estimated project costs have
been subjected to robust testing.
• The Scottish Executive has committed to provide up to £500 million for Phase 1a of the project and City of
Edinburgh Council a further £45 million. Funding for Phase 1b has yet to be confirmed.
• A total of £79 million was spent on the project up to the end of May 2007, which includes £17 million to take
the project through the parliamentary process.
• Some slippage in the project has occurred but transport initiatives edinburgh (tie) is taking action aimed at
ensuring that Phase 1a can be operational by early 2011.
• Arrangements in place to manage the project include a clear corporate governance structure, well defined
project management and organisation, sound financial management and reporting, good risk management
procedures, and a procurement strategy aimed at minimising risk and delivering successful project

This is all fairly conclusive. The SNP now have no reason to cancel the trams. They commissioned the report, they have to accept its findings. Fore more about tram costs, read this.

Shame about EARL though…….