The shelving of repairs to the Forth Road Bridge was a “direct consequence” of Scottish Government cuts, an inquiry has found
A Holyrood committee said the Forth Estuary Transport Authority’s decision to put off strengthening works to a section of the bridge was also influenced by the building of the QueensferryCrossing.But it said Feta’s decision to defer work to the truss end links was the right thing to do given the financial climate and the expert advice.A fault, which the inquiry found was not foreseen, was discovered to the truss end links of the Fife to Edinburgh crossing in early December leading to full closure for nearly three weeks.The report said: “The committee is clear that Feta’s decision in December 2011 to reprioritise projects within its capital plan including work to address concerns about the efficacy of the truss end link mechanisms was a directconsequence of a decision by the Scottish Government/Transport Scotland to reduce its capital grant allocation for the period 2012-13 to 2014-15.It is also the committee’s view that the development of the Forth Replacement crossing would have had an influence on decisions to reprioritise certain capital projects.”Most, but not all, of the MSPs sitting on the committee agreed a “route existed” for Feta to go back to ministers if it believed it was “necessary to accelerate work” on the truss end links to “address a matter of public safety”.The infrastructure committee ruled that Feta took the “appropriate course of action” given the “prevailing financial circumstances and the engineering advice available at the time”.The report’s conclusions were largely quiet on the Scottish Government’s role in the crisis despite ministers slashing Feta’s capital maintenance budget by 58% in 2011.A former bridgemaster at Feta told the inquiry the maintenance works were not a “wish list” but what “needed to be done in our professional opinion”.Transport Secretary Derek Mackay told MSPs the Government would have funded “anything that was critical in terms of the health of the bridge” if Feta came to them.Mr Mackay said the reduction tocapital budget was made with “financial pressures” being felt by “everyone in public life”Inquiry a ‘big disappointment’Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said the report does not go far enough in holding the Scottish Government to account for allowing one of Scotland’s greatest transport assets to close on its watch.
Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone, who sat on the committee, laid into the Government for its “penny-pinching approach to its responsibilities”.
Mr Rennie, who represents Mid Scotland and Fife, said it was unfair that businesses were being left to pick up the bill from the closure. The bridge did not fully re-open to HGVs until February 20.
Calling on the Government to compensate businesses now, he said: “This report is a big disappointment and doesn’t nearly go far enough. The Forth Road Bridge is a major artery that closed on the government’s watch. They should not leave businesses to pick up the tab.”
The inquiry’s remit was focused on the maintenance and funding arrangements of the bridge in the years before the closure.
The committee said it would recommend that the impact of the closure of the bridge is investigated by Holyrood, which could pave the way for compensation to businesses.
Mr Johnstone said: “The price of fixing the bridge, added to the cost to the Scottish economy, highlights the true cost of the Scottish Government’s penny pinching approach to its responsibilities.
“The Scottish Government’s failure has cost the public purse millions.”
A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said they welcome many aspects of the report, in particular the findings that the defect was “unforeseen” and the “remarkable engineering achievement” in getting the bridge reopened.
“Had Feta believed there was a need to accelerate this work to address a matter of public safety Transport Scotland would have provided financial support,” she added.
As stated repeatedly during the inquiry hearings, Feta’s key priority works were always fully funded within the available maintenance budget and no further works were identified as safety critical by Feta.