07 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.

... ... ...


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.


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