SNP accused of cover-up over £100m bridge Bill

For immediate release 24 February 2011

The Scottish Greens today challenged the decision by SNP Ministers to withhold information about an additional £100m liability associated with the additional Forth Road Bridge. The money is a contingent liability associated with the BP pipeline that crosses the proposed route of the bridge, an issue that Transport Scotland have known about for years.

Despite this issue having been known about well in advance, it was withheld from the two Parliamentary Committees which considered the additional bridge. The £100m liability was only approved this week in an unusual private session of the Finance Committee, months after the legislation had been passed.

Raising a Point Of Order at today's First Minister's Questions, Green MSP Patrick Harvie asked the Presiding Officer to rule on whether Parliament's procedures have been broken. In particular, the rules governing a Hybrid Bill like this specify that the Financial Memorandum must set out the best estimate of the costs and margins of uncertainty associated with the work, a rule which appears to have been broken in this instance.

Patrick Harvie MSP said:

"All the evidence points to a serious cover-up here on several fronts. First, Ministers knew about this issue years ago, yet they withheld the information from Parliament until the legislation had been passed. Second, around 800,000 barrels of oil pass through this pipeline every day, and we still have no information about what the risks are to the local environment and economy or indeed what other liabilities the public finances are exposed to. BP appear to have been open with Ministers, unsurprisingly given the serious consequences of their actions in the Gulf of Mexico, but Ministers have decided to withhold vital information.

"What's more, the decision by the Finance Committee to discuss this substantial sum in private is entirely unjustifiable - everyone knows that the route crosses the pipeline, but Parliament and the public have a right to know on what basis such a substantial sum of money has been allocated. This issue will not go away, and neither Ministers nor the Finance Committee can be allowed to get away with what looks like a shabby coverup."

Section 9C.3.2.f of the Parliament's Standing Orders (covering Hybrid Bills) states that:
(f) in the case of a Bill, other than a Bill to which Rule 9C.1.2 applies, a Financial Memorandum which shall set out the best estimates of the administrative, compliance and other costs to which the provisions of the Bill would give rise, best estimates of the timescales over which such costs would be expected to arise, and an indication of the margins of uncertainty in such estimates. The Financial Memorandum must distinguish separately such costs as would fall upon—
(i) the Scottish Administration;
(ii) local authorities; and
(iii) other bodies, individuals and businesses