Opposition MSPs have called for an independent inquiry into the Forth Road Bridge closure amid claims that essential maintenance was not carried out.
The Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties all demanded a parliamentary probe after accusations that maintenance funding had been cut and repairs abandoned on the SNP’s watch.
On the day First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited the bridge for the first time since last week’s closure, Scottish Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley said the public needed answers on why key maintenance was not performed as scheduled.
He added that the impact of a capital funding reduction and the privatisation of the bridge’s works programme which it is claimed led to the resignation of two senior engineer should be investigated with an inquiry.
“People have questions and people need answers, and that is why today I am calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the circumstances leading up to this crisis,” Mr Rowley said.
His call was backed in Holyrood yesterday by Mid Scotland and Fife Tory MSP Murdo Fraser and Willie Rennie, the Fife-based leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
“There has been a great deal of speculation that the bridge closure was the result of inadequate maintenance,” Mr Fraser said.
“With such an inquiry we can find out the truth of the matter and make sure vital lessons are learned for the future.”
A few hours earlier Ms Sturgeon shook hands with Robert McCulloch, the senior engineer who spotted the 20mm crack in a truss under the bridge’s southbound carriageway.
His swift reporting has been credited with preventing further damage.
Ms Sturgeon said: “I’ve spoken to the person who spotted the fault last week and all credit to him because, although this is inconvenient and disruptive to people, spotting this fault when it was spotted means it is a smaller repair still substantial but smaller that can be done in a shorter time scale than otherwise would have been the case.”
Transport Secretary Derek Mackay told MSPs the “fault was not predicted, has only appeared in the last few weeks”, and is unrelated to strengthening works elsewhere on the bridge.
It had been reported that work to strengthen the bridge was delayed four times from 2008 at a time when budgets were being cut, including a reduction of the capital budget by 65% in 2011.
The Scottish Government fully funded all Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta) programmes since taking charge of the annual grant in 2008, Mr Mackay added.
He said prior to the dissolution of Feta earlier this year the authority made all decisions on programmes and repairs independent of Government.
“This is an unprecedented transport challenge. The safety of the travelling public is of paramount importance and the decisions that we have taken will ensure this is maintained.
“Specialists are working day and night to return the bridge to normality and we will fix the problem as soon as we possibly can,” the minister said.
It emerged on Friday that the bridge, which was being used by about 70,000 vehicles every day, will be closed until at least the new year while repair work is carried out on a load-bearing beam known as a truss end link member.