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John Morrison reports
"Sarah Boyack had insisted that private companies would save the taxpayer 200m"
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Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 19:35 GMT
Boyack rides out confidence vote
Sarah Boyack in the parliament
Sarah Boyack defended her decision on the contracts
The Scottish transport minister has survived a vote of no confidence vote called over the awarding of four road maintenance contracts to two private firms.

A political outcry followed Sarah Boyack's announcement that contracts worth 350m had been awarded to Amey and Bear Scotland.

Council's across Scotland, which previously had the work, warned of thousands of job losses, while opposition and some Labour backbench MSPs called for the tendering process to be re-run.

The motion of no confidence, which had been tabled by the Scottish National Party, was defeated by 70 votes to 33, with 16 abstentions.

Bruce Crawford
Bruce Crawford: Tendering "skewed"
SNP transport spokesman Bruce Crawford said the process had been skewed against the local authorities and placed 3,500 jobs in doubt.

He claimed Ms Boyack could have saved the taxpayer an extra 90m if she had listened to parliament.

He said that local authorities would have reduced their bids by 171m if they had been given access to the correct information.

But the minister defended her decision, saying she had no choice but to accept the private bids, which were 200m cheaper than the local authority tenders.

She pointed out that a final audit had made it "absolutely clear" that the two companies which won the contracts had tabled the best bids.

Jibe backfires

The debate in the chamber descended to mocking laughter when an attempted jibe by First Minister Henry McLeish backfired.

Mr McLeish tried to accuse Mr Crawford of "a word beginning with H and ending with Y", which he later explained was meant to be hypocrisy.

Henry McLeish
Mr McLeish provoked mocking laughter
The attack referred to Mr Crawford's involvement in a 1997 decision to tender contracts for ground maintenance while leader of Perth Council.

However, the first minister ended up with egg on his face when SNP MSP for Moray, Margaret Ewing, shouted "Henry" as a guess at the word Mr McLeish was referring to.

Mr McLeish, clearly dented by the gaffe, failed to express confidence in his minister, noting only that she had "acted with full regard for probity and the regulations".

He claimed the tendering process had been "satisfactory" with savings of 75m predicted over the next five years.

However, he added that if investigations uncovered "serious difficulties" the contracts could be suspended and a re-tendering process might begin.

The Auditor General for Scotland and the transport and environment committee are both due to carry out reports in the coming months.

Tory amendment

The Tories moved an amendment removing the no confidence element and supporting competitive tendering for public works contracts.

The amendment was defeated after receiving 16 votes in favour, 102 against and one abstention.

Transport committee convener Andy Kerr, who had criticised the minister, expressed confidence in her and called the motion "pathetic".

Speaking after the debate, Ms Boyack said: "I feel the first minister has strongly supported me in his winding up speech."

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See also:

23 Jan 01 | Scotland
Private firms win roads contracts
27 Dec 00 | Scotland
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