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27 June 2007

Statement: Transport

Transport

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): The next item of business is a statement by Stewart Stevenson on transport. As the minister will take questions at the end of his statement, there should be no interventions. Given the fact that a debate on transport follows on from the statement, I make it clear that, as I have intimated to business managers, questions should be for clarification only.

14:36

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I want to tell members about how the Government is going to manage and take forward our capital investment programme for transport to ensure that it is ambitious, achievable and, above all, value for money.

We must continue to invest in our transport infrastructure. The Government is committed to doing exactly that to support sustainable growth. We are committed to a programme that must be founded on sound justification and robust business cases. With that firmly held belief, we consider it our duty and our responsibility to assess the major transport project portfolio for trunk road and rail that we have inherited. With this statement to Parliament, we bring that process to a close. We are absolutely certain that taxpayers in Scotland expect nothing less from the new Government.

Members are aware that we invited the Auditor General for Scotland to review procedures used for the proposed Edinburgh trams and Edinburgh airport rail link. Audit Scotland's work is complete and the report has been published. We have taken on board the Auditor General's comments in our review of major projects and our decisions on next steps. Based on the report's findings, I am all the more convinced that what we inherited is neither sustainable nor sensible.

The overall programme has not been prioritised. Many projects are likely to start at the same time, creating a high risk of overheating the market and making it difficult for contractors to plan properly. That approach is storing up problems for us. It is, quite simply, old-fashioned boom and bust. We need a better approach. We need to plan—and we will plan—our programme in a more sensible and sustainable way to attract world-class construction firms to bid for what is by any measure an ambitious and world-class programme. That means bringing forward a programme that is properly prioritised and that matches industry's capability to deliver efficiently, sustainably, affordably and on time. The programme that I am outlining to Parliament meets those objectives.

I now set out our priorities for rail and road and what that means for the current programme. Our priorities for rail investment are to improve connectivity, to maximise the contribution of the rail network to our sustainable transport system and to improve services for commuters. Having reviewed the existing programme for rail, we have reached some conclusions. Last week, I attended the start of work to double the track from Bathgate to Newbridge. We will press forward with the delivery of the full Airdrie to Bathgate scheme by December 2010, and I expect costs to remain in the outturn range of £300 million to £375 million. The project will connect communities in North Lanarkshire and West Lothian with employment, education and leisure opportunities in Edinburgh and Glasgow. It will provide a real alternative to the M8, and the early works on the Bathgate branch will improve reliability of the already popular commuter service.

Transport Scotland is continuing a due-diligence review of the Borders railway as it prepares to take on the role of authorised undertaker for the railway—a role that it is assuming at the behest of the previous Administration. However, we have learned that the Waverley railway partnership's proposed funding package will not be sufficient to deliver the project and that opening in December 2011 is not achievable.

We expect Scottish Borders Council and Midlothian Council to work hard with developers to close the funding gap. We reaffirm the Scottish Government's commitment—which we inherited from the previous Administration—to provide £115 million in 2002 prices towards the scheme. Our continuing support depends on the project meeting the three remaining funding conditions that the previous Administration set. First, the assumptions underlying the business case must hold. That condition includes the achievement of patronage levels, the containment of costs, the active management of risks, and housing growth projections that are achievable and based on identified market demand. Secondly, a clear and comprehensive risk management strategy must be developed and delivered. Thirdly, the railway must be integrated with local bus services to ensure that it has the widest possible impact in the Borders and Midlothian.

Glasgow airport rail link will provide an easy, dedicated, reliable service between the airport, Paisley and Glasgow city centre. The way forward on procurement is clear: Transport Scotland will lead the project, Strathclyde partnership for transport will deliver the civil engineering for the new railway and Network Rail will deliver the track and systems.

SPT and Network Rail are working together to combine GARL with necessary signalling improvements on the existing railway to Paisley. Earlier this year, it became apparent that, if those projects were delivered separately, there would be a need to rip out newly installed infrastructure, which would create unnecessary disruption for passengers. Therefore, we have decided that the best way to proceed is to combine the two projects, the consequence of which is that GARL will be delayed by about a year.

We expect the core of the current work on Waverley station—which will increase capacity and ease congestion at the station—to be completed on time at the end of 2007 and within budget. However, Network Rail continues to work with the Balmoral hotel to reach agreement on proposed improvements to the Waverley steps. Network Rail is now planning a new approach, which will still deliver escalators and lifts to Princes Street, combined with further improvements to the station itself.

We are disappointed and concerned that the important project to reconnect Alloa to the national rail network, provide a more efficient route for coal trains to Longannet power station and free up capacity on the Forth bridge has run late and over budget. We will implement a simpler project structure to strengthen governance and take the project through to opening in the spring of 2008 at a cost of £80 million to £85 million.

I will move on to my response to the Auditor General's findings on the Edinburgh airport rail link and the Edinburgh trams scheme, which were published last week. The Auditor General highlighted that EARL is not in as good shape as he would have expected for a project at the current stage of development. He confirmed that EARL is unlikely to be delivered by the target date of the end of 2011, has no clear governance framework and has no procurement strategy in place. He also confirmed that the project board did not meet between April 2006 and February 2007, that it has met only twice since then, that its membership and role are no longer agreed between the main stakeholders, and that there is no date for the next meeting. That is a litany of unfinished work and incomplete governance, and the Government has been utterly vindicated in its decision to invite the Auditor General to review those projects. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order. Best of order, please.

Stewart Stevenson: As a result, I have no confidence in the projected timescales.

The Auditor General found that the tram scheme had more of the features that we would expect in a well-managed project. However, he highlighted TIE's own assessment that phase 1b to Granton is not affordable within current funding. The affordability of phase 1a depends on successful value engineering and negotiation with bidders. We will not know whether that has succeeded until January 2008—fully four months after TIE originally promised. In that time, TIE proposes that we invest a further £60 million on top of the £79 million that has already been spent—£140 million without a single metre of track laid.

We are being asked to take significant risks with Scottish taxpayers' money on two all-or-nothing projects. Quite simply, I cannot recommend that we do so, given that there are other more important priorities for the use of funds on that scale.

Edinburgh airport needs an effective public transport link, but it does not need a tunnel under its main runway. I have therefore asked Transport Scotland to investigate alternatives to EARL and the trams project and to report back to ministers in the autumn.

I want to consider the most cost-effective way to improve public transport in Edinburgh. The city already has a strong bus service, and excellent value can be achieved from investment in bus, which is flexible and reaches across the city. We can do a lot to work with operators and with City of Edinburgh Council to consider further guided bus routes, improved waiting facilities, greener vehicles and enhanced park-and-ride facilities, and I want to do that over the summer.

I want to focus on our priority for the rail network, which is to improve the reliability, attractiveness and journey time of the Edinburgh to Glasgow route, which will improve significantly the connectivity between those two fine and important cities. Transport Scotland will work with Network Rail and First ScotRail on a package of measures, including infrastructure improvements such as a new station at Gogar as an alternative link to the airport, improvements at Dalmeny and firm proposals for the most cost-effective ways to improve reliability, bring down journey times and provide capacity for the expected continuing growth in rail passenger numbers.

I am pleased to announce that Transport Scotland has today published its initial assessment of the electrification of the Glasgow to Edinburgh rail line. The Government is absolutely determined to attach the highest priority to achieving that truly strategic project, which will establish greater connectivity between the major central Scotland cities. That is the type of project that should command scarce resources to improve significantly our transport connections.

For roads, our priorities are: first, maintaining and operating the existing network safely and efficiently; secondly, managing demand to reduce congestion at key locations to minimise the impact on the economy; and finally, investing in new capacity where it has been demonstrated through robust appraisal that it is appropriate to do so.

Having reviewed the existing programme for major strategic trunk roads, we have reached the following conclusions. We are committed to the completion of the motorway network. The extension of the M74 will reduce congestion on the busiest stretch of the M8 through Glasgow and provide links into key regeneration projects of national significance in Glasgow's east end, which will bring much-needed new investment in homes and jobs.

The M74 project has only one preferred bidder, which makes the need to demonstrate value for money more challenging and all the more essential. We expect to award the contract later this year and to complete the project by the end of 2011. However, we will award the contract to the bidder only if the bid is clear value for money—we will not be held to ransom by a single bidder, and we will benchmark the single bid against an independent cost comparator. That will be a tough and robust process to protect the public purse.

The case for the M80 Stepps to Haggs project is also clear: it will complete the missing gap between Stirling and Glasgow. Two major consortia are bidding for the scheme as a public-private partnership contract. We are committed to continuing with the competition. Changes to the tendering process would add delay to this much-needed improvement. Subject to value-for-money tests, I expect contracts to be concluded soon and the road to be opened in 2011.

On the M8, we are committed to completing the key link between Baillieston and Newhouse as well as carrying out associated improvements and upgrades to the notorious bottleneck at Raith. We will continue to take those projects through the necessary statutory processes and, in relation to the M8, we will publish orders later in the summer. Previously published draft orders will be republished to comply with recently implemented European legislation. A decision on how those projects will be funded will be taken within the year.

The Aberdeen western peripheral route is vital to the north-east and we are committed to its delivery. The project has entered its crucial statutory consultation phase and it is important that we proceed with that. As with the M8, draft road orders will be republished over the summer, to comply with recently implemented European legislation, along with compulsory purchase orders. It is clear that the original timetable for the project cannot be met, and we are looking at the project being completed around the end of 2012. We will continue to work with our local authority partners to deliver that.

An update of the full trunk road programme covering the other important planned projects was published on the Transport Scotland website earlier today.

As members know, we are committed to making decisions on the new Forth crossing. The reports that were discussed by Cabinet yesterday recommend the option of a bridge close to the existing crossing. We are pleased to announce to Parliament that a programme of public information exhibitions will be held during the summer on the proposal and on the possibility of a tunnel upstream from the existing bridge. Those exhibitions will present the full facts that have informed the reports. A decision will be taken in the autumn, alongside decisions on finance, legislation and governance.

The reports have been published today. At 2016 outturn prices, the estimated cost of the bridge option is between £2.5 billion and £3.5 billion, and the estimated cost of the tunnel is £3.6 billion to £4.7 billion. Those figures demonstrate that Parliament must be careful and prudent when considering the projects. The eyes of the world will be upon us as we proceed to construction of this major project that will deliver benefits not just for the people of Fife but for the economy of Scotland. I am determined that the world will witness the delivery of a world-class project in a world-class way.

We have set out for Parliament today an ambitious transport investment programme. Because of the time that we have taken to review the projects, I believe that we can assure Parliament that the programme is achievable.

The Presiding Officer: The minister will now take questions. I will close this question-and-answer session at 5 minutes past 3. I remind members that their questions should be ones of clarification only.

Ms Wendy Alexander (Paisley North) (Lab): In justification of the proposed cancellation of EARL and the trams project, the statement notes that there are more important priorities for the use of funds on this scale. What are those more important priorities?

I understand that the Scottish National Party has called a press briefing immediately following the conclusion of today's debate. Will the party honour this place by making the same case behind closed doors at 5.15 that it will make in the chamber all afternoon?

Stewart Stevenson: Having spent 15 minutes describing a wide range of projects, I would have thought that the member would recognise the significant number of priorities that I delineated. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order.

Stewart Stevenson: In particular, I am sure that people throughout the central belt will welcome our support to progress the electrification of the Glasgow to Edinburgh railway line. That is an example of a project that meets the needs of many people in central Scotland and, along with the Aberdeen western peripheral route, to which we are also committed, shows our support for projects throughout Scotland.

Tavish Scott (Shetland) (LD): Will the minister confirm that he is pushing ahead with Airdrie to Bathgate, the Glasgow airport rail link, Waverley station, Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine, the M74, the M80, the M8 and the AWPR but that he plans to ditch EARL and the trams and is backing away from the Borders railway? Will he confirm that at the recent election, every SNP candidate north of the Highland line, including his good self, said that a nationalist Government would switch expenditure away from the central belt and towards the north? Where is that switch?

Stewart Stevenson: I hope that the member heard me restate the commitment to the Borders railway. If he did not, I say it again. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order.

Stewart Stevenson: I draw the member's attention to an interesting point about the amendment that he appears to wish to support at 5 o'clock. The amendment would delete support for the Government's statement and therefore delete support for the Aberdeen western peripheral route, the M80 and all the projects that he wishes to progress.

Tricia Marwick (Central Fife) (SNP): I welcome the minister's commitment to a new Forth crossing. Is he aware of the concern, particularly among businesses in Fife, that there could be a gap between 2013, when it is possible that the existing bridge will close to heavy goods vehicles, and 2016, when it is expected that the new crossing will be complete? Does the minister agree that the gap would have been shorter if the previous Government had acted more quickly? What comfort can he give that he will do all that he can to ensure that this vital link for the whole of Scotland is completed before 2016?

Stewart Stevenson: We are, of course, working with all possible speed. I assure colleagues that, in exploring the continuing possibility of one of the tunnel options, no change has been made to the timescale. It is important that Parliament understands that we remain on the same timescale—2016 is the best and earliest opportunity to deliver what the people of Fife, the Lothians and wider Scotland need.

Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): Will the minister clarify whether the new Forth road crossing will be a replacement bridge or additional to the existing bridge? Has he considered the public transport component of the new bridge? What modal split does he envisage? In the light of last week's statement and debate on climate change and carbon offsetting, has he factored in the carbon emissions of the various options that are before him? I would have looked up the answer but, although the minister said in his statement that the information was published on Transport Scotland's website today, it was not available before we came into the chamber.

Stewart Stevenson: When we consider the strategy and we have the details, we will consider all aspects, including environmental aspects such as carbon.

On the issue of replacement, the member must recall that we do not know the lifespan of the existing crossing. All efforts are being made to extend its life. We have to protect the link between Fife and the Lothians. In doing so, we wish to enhance the public transport options. We also want to consider the use of multi-occupancy vehicle options to ensure that people who use their own transport to cross from Fife to Edinburgh and vice versa do so in an optimal way.

Derek Brownlee (South of Scotland) (Con): The previous Government instituted quarterly reviews of projects against time and cost. Will the minister clarify whether, in any of those reviews, the concerns that he has outlined today were picked up? If so, when were they picked up and what was done about them?

On the Borders railway, will he clarify whether the conditions and financial contribution that he has outlined today are in any way different from those of the previous Administration?

Stewart Stevenson: Derek Brownlee should perhaps direct his question on what happened before this Administration came in a few weeks ago to someone sitting rather closer to him. The important point is that we have—as is normal, natural and necessary—reviewed what we have inherited. I spelled out the financial commitments in relation to each and every project, and we propose amendments only in the cases of the Edinburgh trams and EARL. I also indicated our support for some new strategic projects, and I hope that the member was listening when I did so.

Margaret Smith (Edinburgh West) (LD): I welcome the minister's comments about the Forth crossing. Will he give us more information about the consultation? Will he be interested in hearing public opinion, or will it simply involve exhibitions telling people what is going to happen? Will he confirm which type of tunnel he will consider? Will it be a bored tunnel or a submerged tube?

Crucially, given that geological site investigations have not taken place at all sites, what is the basis for the costs that have been outlined today? Can the minister explain how the cost of a bridge has leapt from £330 million in a Faber Maunsell report to the Forth Estuary Transport Authority in 2004 or from the £1.2 billion that he quoted to me in our meeting last week to up to £3.5 billion today?

Stewart Stevenson: Margaret Smith's first question was on what we would do over the summer with the communities. The consultation will be about engagement and discussion, and a vital part of the process will be to hear the views of the people who will be affected by any or all of the proposed developments.

On the tunnel, we have not yet concluded whether it would be a deep tunnel or a semi-submerged tunnel. On costs, to ensure that it is possible to compare projects coherently, I have used outturn prices throughout. The prices that were quoted previously were for the outset of projects. It is important that we understand what projects are likely to cost in 2016 as well as what the budget might be today. I am making a fair comparison today.

Christopher Harvie (Mid Scotland and Fife) (SNP): I have three detailed questions for the minister. Costs have already been covered by Margaret Smith, but can I ask for the minister's attitude to the fact that the number of bus passengers in Scotland—an awful lot of emphasis has been placed on bus carriage as an alternative—fell by 16 per cent between 1993 and 2003? That figure comes from Kenny MacAskill in 2004.

The Presiding Officer: Can we have a question, please?

Christopher Harvie: I want to know the minister's attitude to the bus as an alternative.

Second is the question of a multimodal tunnel. Will that multimodality include the possibility of high-speed rail links through the tunnel? Thirdly, how do we plan for the expected explosion in oil prices when we hit peak oil, with the $200 barrel and the £12 gallon? Those considerations must be factored in.

Stewart Stevenson: I am sure that the bus passenger figures that Chris Harvie used are correct. It is worth making the point that, since 2003, bus patronages have risen somewhat. They are now at approximately half the level that they were in 1960, but they are heading in the right direction.

On the multimodality of the tunnel, no options have been ruled in and no options have been ruled out.

On oil prices, the member may be interested to know that the power requirement for the electrified line between Edinburgh and Glasgow may be 10MW. That is equivalent to five wind turbines. I have made the connection.

14 June 2007

S3M-173 Carbon Offsetting [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 14 June 2007

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Carbon Offsetting

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-173, in the name of Robin Harper, on carbon offsetting.

10:35

... ... ...

11:29

Stewart Stevenson: Like others, I am pleased to have been part of this interesting and valuable debate, which has helped to highlight some of the complexities that should be considered in any decisions on using carbon offsetting as a response to climate change.

I will refer to some of the contributions made, starting with that of Mrs McInnes. She stressed that we should not wait for a climate change bill before introducing initiatives, and I agree absolutely. We will continue to take every opportunity to make progress. At official level, we have been discussing energy efficiency with the UK Government and considering how we can jointly make improvements. Such issues will form part of my discussions with David Miliband when I meet him in London on Monday.

Bill Wilson mentioned Peterhead. As a number of members may know, my colleague Jim Mather today provided section 36 consent, under the Electricity Act 1989, for energy generation of 550MW from decarbonised fuel at Peterhead. That is but one part of a project that would have faced substantial hurdles had we denied that consent.

I was delighted to hear from John Park that sales of clothes-pegs have increased fourteenfold.

James Kelly: It was not John Park.

Stewart Stevenson: Not John Park? I beg members' pardon.

James Kelly: It was James Kelly.

Stewart Stevenson: I beg James's pardon. I grovel before him. I hope that the clothes-pegs in question were wooden ones made from renewable sources rather than plastic ones made from fuel oil.

I can advise Mr Hume that my wife has planted 46 trees in the past 18 months. We are making as much progress as we can as individuals.

Nanette Milne spoke about energy-efficient buildings. I have been involved in discussions on building standards and I think that we will bring some good news on the contribution to energy efficiency that will result from the next updating of the standards, which will be in the not-too-distant future.

Des McNulty rightly focused on the need for changes to individuals' behaviour. Being made the minister with responsibility for tackling climate change has caused me to think about the issues in a new way. I hope that the climate change bill will have a similar effect on us all.

Since becoming minister, I have reduced my top speed in the car by 5mph. Interestingly, that has resulted in a reduction of only 2mph in my average speed, but a reduction of slightly over 10 per cent in the amount of fuel that I use. The challenge now is to travel less distance and to use more sustainable means of doing so. Quite simple things that we can do as individuals can start to make a difference. The Government wants to encourage people to do those simple things.

Offsetting has a value, but suppose that we did nothing directly but reduced our net carbon impact by exporting all our carbon use through offsetting alone. That would not be helpful, and it would not be possible either. Offsetting is a palliative in the short term; it raises awareness and helps us to engage with the issue, but in the long term it really is not the answer.

We want to work with other Administrations and, as I have indicated, with other parties. The tenor of the debate bodes well for engagement on the climate change bill. I repeat: our climate change targets are challenging and long term. They cover many Parliaments and will transcend many Administrations. Offsetting should be viewed as a small part of a hierarchy of actions, but the most effective way to avoid or reduce emissions will be by changing behaviours. Developing and adopting new low-carbon technologies will play a part in reducing emissions. When it is not possible to avoid or reduce emissions, cost-effective offsetting, providing auditable carbon reductions, can have a role. That is why the Executive sees value in properly auditable initiatives and why we will consider whether offsetting can play a role in our future plans.

11:35

S3M-173 Carbon Offsetting [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 14 June 2007

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Carbon Offsetting

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-173, in the name of Robin Harper, on carbon offsetting.

10:35

... ... ...

10:42

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Climate change is widely recognised as one of the most serious threats that face the world today. Unchecked, carbon emissions will have serious consequences for Scotland's people, economy and environment, and it should certainly not be dealt with solely by granting indulgences.

According to Sir Nicholas Stern, it would cost up to 1 per cent of the world's annual gross domestic product to stabilise emissions by the middle of the century, but—critically—failure to tackle emissions could cost 20 per cent of GDP. The longer we wait to take the necessary action, the more the cost to society will rise.

Action to avoid and reduce emissions is widely recognised as the most appropriate way of dealing with climate change, which is why we intend to consult on ambitious targets to reduce emissions in Scotland through our proposed climate change bill. Next week, we will announce to the Parliament our objectives for the bill, and we will discuss the bill's content with representatives of the Parliament and others during the coming month. I have started direct engagement with other parties on the matter—I have met representatives of half the parties in the Parliament and will meet representatives of the remaining two parties today. Climate change is truly a cross-cutting and cross-party issue and we need a long-term consensus if we are to succeed.

We know that everyday actions consume energy and produce carbon emissions, but people in Scotland need to travel and use energy—Scotland's economy depends on their doing so. Without access to good transport links and reliable energy supplies, Scottish businesses will be unable to compete in the global marketplace. That could result in our businesses relocating, taking their jobs and emissions with them and giving us a false sense of having reduced our output. Such a result simply would not benefit Scottish people or the global environment.

Avoiding and reducing emissions require action on many fronts. There is much that everyone can do simply by making smarter choices—there are smarter ways of doing business, of travelling and of reducing energy use. Although the smarter choices can reduce emissions, they do not eliminate them. That is why technology will be such an important part of our fight against climate change. Technology can provide us with new ways of generating as well as saving energy and new ways in which we can continue to grow Scotland's economy without growing carbon emissions.

That is why we want Scotland to become a global leader in developing solutions to the challenge of climate change and a pre-eminent location for clean energy research and development in Europe. We want Scotland to become the green energy capital of Europe. We can do that by playing to our strengths; other people will have the same ambition. We have unique potential for wave and tidal energy. We can build on the world-class Orkney test centre, which the previous Administration supported, and on indigenous expertise in the area. We can make Scotland the global byword for marine renewables, which are the new generation of renewables.

There is another option that can support efforts to reduce emissions: compensating for unavoidable emissions with an equivalent carbon saving. Carbon offsetting is not a cure for climate change, but it can play a part in reducing the impact of our immediate actions. If offsets can be purchased, it means that carbon emissions have a cost that can be avoided if emissions are reduced. A climate strategy that includes offsetting can help to raise awareness of the carbon impact of actions, influence behaviours to reduce carbon emissions where possible and thus help to drive down further emissions.

We want to lead by example. Continuing from the previous Executive, we want to reduce emissions from our own travel. When I meet David Miliband in London on Monday with representatives of the other devolved Administrations, I shall travel by train. I am afraid that I have to fly back, but at least I have made that 50 per cent reduction. On another occasion, my diary will be better arranged.

Climate change will not be solved by a single country, organisation or action and it will not be solved in a day, a week or a month; it is a long-term issue that requires a coalition of commitment that transcends a single Parliament or Administration and crosses political, economic, geographic and country boundaries—it is a genuine cross-cutting issue.

Carbon offsetting is one of the measures that should be properly considered. I welcome the debate as an opportunity to do so.

I move amendment S3M-173.4, to leave out from "transport policy" to end and insert:

"policy, including transport policy, leads to direct emissions reductions."

10:49

7 June 2007

S3M-127 Sustainable Public Transport [Closing Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 7 June 2007

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

Sustainable Public Transport

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-127, in the name of Des McNulty, on sustainable public transport systems. I intend to keep all speakers strictly to time.

... ... ...

10:16

Stewart Stevenson: I will address one or two issues that arose in the debate. I will start by quoting the letter from Robert Black to Mr Swinney. It says:

"In response to your request".

Next, I will read from the terms of reference that the Auditor General issued yesterday. They say:

"The Auditor General has already made a commitment that Audit Scotland will undertake a review of major capital projects in Scotland in its current work programme. This project was strongly supported by the Parliament's Audit Committee when the Auditor General presented the forward work programme to them in February 2007. That project is currently being scoped and we expect to publish a report in spring 2008. The Auditor General has agreed to bring forward a more focused review of Edinburgh trams and EARL as part of the planned work, and that is the subject of this brief."

The issue of value for money arose a number of times during the debate. It is important that we understand what value for money means. It is not just about cost. It is about securing value for the expenditure. We cannot achieve that without the robust management of projects. It is precisely an investigation into the management of the projects—and the risk management in particular—that Audit Scotland will focus on.

Much has been made of the risks to the tram project. Let me gently point something out to Labour members. In 2004, tram projects were scrapped in Liverpool, Leeds and Portsmouth with no consultation of any kind. Who scrapped those projects? We may well ask. The answer is, of course, Alistair Darling—a Labour minister at Westminster.

Some remarks have been made about buses clogging up Princes Street. There are no cars on Princes Street, but there are buses. Interestingly, in 1960, twice as many passengers were carried on buses in Edinburgh compared with today, yet Princes Street was not clogged with buses. Some of the symptoms that we require to address might have causes that are more complex than the simple-minded approach that has been taken so far.

I thank Tavish Scott for acknowledging that Governments are not tied by the decisions of previous Administrations. That is clear. Wendy Alexander suggested that we were looking at costs, but I have said "process and management". I welcome the fact that George Foulkes is prepared to listen.

Ms Alexander: Will the minister take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I have very little time in this very short debate, for which the Labour Party is responsible.

Margaret Smith identified that we have further steps to take in the tram project. That is important. However, I simply come back to what the Government is doing. Our priority is to protect the Scottish taxpayer and ensure that major transport projects deliver value for money, real benefit to the travelling public and real benefit to the Scottish economy. I repeat—I have not yet heard anyone convincingly suggest that it should be otherwise—that it is normal, natural and necessary to review projects at key points. One such point is when an Administration has come into office and has to look at what it is faced with. We have to be absolutely sure about the calculation of costs of projects and to assess the risks before they progress further.

Audit Scotland will report by 20 June and we will make time available for a debate on what emerges from that. It would be arbitrary indeed to pre-empt the outcome of that process. The debate has been useful, but I hope that members will recognise that the Government has to take stock and involve the Parliament and wider Scotland in important decisions that will be made.

10:22

S3M-127 Sustainable Public Transport [Opening Speech]

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 7 June 2007

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

Sustainable Public Transport

The Presiding Officer (Alex Fergusson): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S3M-127, in the name of Des McNulty, on sustainable public transport systems. I intend to keep all speakers strictly to time.

... ... ...

09:22

The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): Accountability lies at the heart of this debate, and Government must be accountable to the people of Scotland for the decisions that it makes.

Mike Rumbles (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): It must be accountable to Parliament.

Stewart Stevenson: We are accountable to Parliament and, of course, to the people of Scotland. The only way in which we can maintain the trust of the electorate is by ensuring that Parliament is answerable to the people of Scotland.

Government is responsible and accountable for the value of the money that it spends. Scottish taxpayers expect us to take that seriously and to take a hard look at the major spending programmes that we have inherited.

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green): I note the minister's comments about taxpayers' money. Mr Swinney is quoted as saying that his priority

"is to protect the Scottish taxpayer and ensure that any major transport project is value for money".

Can the minister confirm that that statement is a true reflection of the Executive's priorities and that the intention to review the finances of transport projects is not limited to public transport? For example, will he give a commitment to review the finances of the M74 northern extension in Glasgow, which is already experiencing delays and cost increases, and of other road projects, such as the Aberdeen western peripheral route?

Stewart Stevenson: I trust that I will not damage Mr Patrick Harvie's prospects of becoming convener of the transport, infrastructure and climate change committee if I indicate that I look forward to working with him. I note that he has said today that

"Transport and infrastructure decisions will determine whether Scotland succeeds in tackling climate change."

It is important that we have a balanced approach. We are determined that overall we will make decisions that tackle climate change. We are examining all the commitments that we have inherited. Our priority is to protect the Scottish taxpayer by ensuring that all major transport projects deliver value for money. It is quite simple: we must build on solid foundations.

Tavish Scott (Shetland) (LD): Will the minister take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will do so a wee bit later.

It is normal, natural and necessary to review projects. It is normal practice for all good clients to review projects regularly. Who would not want to be sure that they were getting the benefits that they expected at the price that had been promised? It is completely natural for the new Scottish Government to want to consider what we have inherited and to check whether it is fit for purpose—just as Sarah Boyack did, as she said in her statement to the Parliament in November 1999.

Tavish Scott: If the minister wants to review projects, why is he reviewing only two? Why does he not review all projects?

Sarah Boyack (Edinburgh Central) (Lab): Exactly. Will the minister give way?

Stewart Stevenson: The important points about the two projects have been made: they are the biggest projects, they are running and we need to make decisions about them quickly. It is necessary to review projects. There are good examples of project delivery in Scotland but, sadly, not every project runs well. In March 2006, the Parliament heard that the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway would open in summer 2007 and would cost between £65 million and £70 million.

Ms Wendy Alexander (Paisley North) (Lab): Will the minister give way?

Stewart Stevenson: I have only six minutes. I have taken two interventions and I will take no more.

Within days of taking office, we were told that the cost of the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway had risen to £83 million. Against the background of the rising costs of that project, we needed to check the rest of the major public transport projects, starting with the two largest: the tram project and EARL.

Ms Alexander: Will the minister give way?

The Presiding Officer: The minister has made it quite clear that he will take no more interventions.

Stewart Stevenson: We are pleased that the Auditor General for Scotland has accepted our invitation—I stress "invitation", because he is independent and we cannot instruct him—to review the procedures that were used to forecast costs for the proposed Edinburgh tram and airport rail link projects.

Ms Alexander: Will the minister take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: We issued that invitation precisely so that the necessary objectivity would be brought to the projects. Audit Scotland will report by 20 June and the findings shall be published. The report will form part of the review of major public transport projects that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth announced last week. We will consider the report swiftly and return to the Parliament before the summer recess, to set out our position clearly and concisely. We therefore accept the Conservative amendment to my amendment.

We are not in the business of taking arbitrary decisions. It is normal, natural and necessary to review projects at key stages in their development. It is even more normal, natural and necessary to review projects that have been inherited from a previous Administration—as the previous Administration did. Last week, we accepted an amendment that called on us not to make decisions arbitrarily, but this week the Opposition has called on us to make decisions in precisely that way—[Interruption.] We are acting responsibly, which is why we invited the Auditor General for Scotland to report on EARL and the trams. We are considering value for money objectively. We will take decisions in the interests of the Scottish taxpayer and involve the Parliament in the process.

I move amendment S3M-127.3, to leave out from first "believes" to end and insert:

"recognises the different policy positions of various political parties; notes that the Scottish Government has invited the Auditor General to consider the approach to financial and risk management taken in the preparation of the Edinburgh Tram and Edinburgh Airport Rail Link proposals, and welcomes the fact that ministers will report to the Parliament on this matter before the summer recess."

09:29

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