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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 May, 2004, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
Holyrood Inquiry - Part 1
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BBC Scotland looks back at the evidence given at Lord Fraser's inquiry into the cost of the Scottish Parliament building.

The first of our four-part series looks at what was dubbed the Four Site Saga - the period when ministers had the options of sites at Calton Hill, Leith, Haymarket and Holyrood for the project.


DAY ONE - Tuesday, 28 October

The inquiry began with an opening statement from the QC for the inquiry, John D.Campbell, outlining the questions which must be answered.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie would review the management of the project and highlight lessons that needed to be learned in the future.

He would examine whether the original estimate of 90m was realistic and whether the building contract was appropriate.

The inquiry began by questioning the ministers who were in a position of responsibility prior to and during the early days of devolution.

Former Scottish Office Minister Sam Galbraith, a close confidante of late First Minister Donald Dewar, was the first person to give evidence

Mr Galbraith said he wanted to establish a building of "stature and credibility".

Sam Galbraith
Sam Galbraith said a building of "stature" was needed
He did not want a "second-hand building for a new Scottish Parliament" and he added that he felt that a budget of 50m, a figure which had been mooted, would have been "disappointing".

Mr Galbraith said Chancellor Gordon Brown had suggested using an existing building but the suggestion was rejected.

He also dismissed the suggestion that Westminster was controlling the decision making.

However, he warned that the decision making should not have been handed over to the parliament itself as costs would go "through the roof".

Former Scottish Office Minister Brian Wilson said Donald Dewar "was very much the custodian of this process".

Mr Wilson said he was not involved in the decision making but he was aware that Mr Dewar had become "immediately interested" in the Holyrood option when it was raised.

He denied that Calton Hill was ruled out because it was viewed as a "Nationalist shibboleth" by Labour.

DAY TWO - Wednesday, 29 October

Former First Minister Henry McLeish said Donald Dewar took the key role in the decision to build a new parliament building.

Mr Dewar was Scottish secretary prior to devolution and Mr McLeish was appointed as a minister in the Scottish Office with responsibility for arrangements in the devolution White Paper.

Mr McLeish said Mr Dewar "pitted himself against the biggest beasts at Westminster" to get his way on the arrangements.

Henry McLeish
Henry McLeish said Donald Dewar led the way
He added: "Donald Dewar had to know every detail and I would say that as a consequence, and I could stand corrected by later evidence, that I was not involved nor were any others in the detail of the White Paper to the extent you might think."

Mr McLeish said that before 1997 the old Royal High School on Edinburgh's Calton Hill had been the favoured location for a future parliament.

However, he said: "I always had the view that the Royal High School on its own could never be a long-term basis for the Scottish Parliament."

He said the building's cost was "not judged to be a major consideration" immediately after the 1997 election.

In the afternoon, Murray Elder, now Lord Elder, a former special adviser to Donald Dewar gave evidence.

Lord Elder said that in the run-up to devolution the priorities for Mr Dewar and the administration had been the White Paper, a referendum, a Bill and then the parliament.

Asked about Mr Dewar's abilities in managing large projects, he said: "He was hugely careful with other people's money, it was a duty."

With regard to the decision to go ahead with the Holyrood site in January 1998, he said: "I do not believe he (Mr Dewar) would have gone ahead on the basis of partial knowledge."

Lord Elder said some difficulties arose between Donald Dewar and architect Enric Miralles once the design had been finalised, particularly on the issue of timings.

MSP Wendy Alexander, a former adviser to Mr Dewar, said the initial White Paper cost estimate of up to 40m for a parliament building related to the "notional cost of a new build, as opposed to the old Royal High".

Wendy Alexander and Lord Elder gave evidence
Mr Campbell asked why there had seemed to be an "unholy rush" by Mr Dewar to take a decision on a building in January 1999, so soon after Holyrood had emerged as an option.

Ms Alexander said: "It had been under debate for seven months and I think he thought there was no more useful information available to him based on the criteria he had at that time.

"Since he had chosen the lowest cost option he thought he was secure in that choice, although that has clearly not proved to be."

DAY THREE - Thursday, 30 October

Former Scottish Office Minister Lord Sewel said there was a "laziness of thinking" surrounding the choice of a site.

There was an assumption the parliament would be sited at the old Royal High School on Calton Hill, despite the fact that many people felt the site was inadequate.

He said that when the Holyrood site emerged as an option "it was an answer to all of our prayers".

Lord Sewel told the inquiry that the options of the Royal High School and buildings at Leith and Haymarket were not appealing.

Sir Russell Hillhouse, former head of the Scottish civil service, said Donald Dewar pressed ahead with plans for Holyrood because he wanted a building fit for the 21st Century.

He was asked why the decision on the building was taken in 1998 and not left to the MSPs who were due to be elected in 1999.

Sir Russell said Mr Dewar did not want to go down that road and thought the MSPs would have enough to do.

He said Mr Dewar told him: "I think it is my duty to endow them with a really good building which is fit for purpose and which will enable them to operate effectively."

DAY FOUR - Tuesday, 4 November

The week's evidence looked at submissions from civil servants who were involved in the project at the early stages and who advised ministers at the time in the Scottish Office.

The session began with a rebuke to sections of the media from counsel to the inquiry.

John D.Campbell said some coverage in the weekend Press had unfairly criticised the evidence of public servants.

He said: "Civil servants, who have come forward voluntarily and speedily should not be pilloried, especially when they are not in a position to answer back."

Alastair Wyllie, head of the building division at the Scottish Office following the 1997 Labour election victory, gave evidence.

He said the cost of a parliament building at the Holyrood site was estimated at the end of 1997 and the beginning of 1998 by two independent cost consultants at between 50m and 80m.

By February 1998 he and a colleague, project adviser Bill Armstrong, were conducting a pre-tendering process to select quantity surveyors for the site.

The project organisers decided that the fees for the quantity surveyors should be based upon a percentage linked to the final costs of the completed project.

Mr Campbell asked Mr Wyllie who made that decision.

Mr Wyllie said: "The range of fees for the quantity surveyor were set by Bill Armstrong."

In the afternoon the inquiry heard evidence from Robert Gordon, the civil servant who headed the constitution group which prepared the ground for devolution.

Mr Campbell suggested to Mr Gordon that officials knew early estimates for the costs were wrong.

He also asked why a press release on January 9 1998, which named Holyrood as the site for the new building, predicted it would cost 50m to 55m but did not include fees and VAT.

DAY FIVE - Wednesday, 5 November

Senior civil servant Paul Grice admitted that the initial plans for Holyrood were "based on uncertainty".

He said Donald Dewar had ordered staff to have a parliament up and running for MSPs by April 2000.

Mr Grice, now chief executive of the Scottish Parliament, was head of the Referendum Legislation and Implementation team in 1997 which steered in devolution following Labour's general election win that year.

Paul Grice
Paul Grice said officials "had to get on with it"
Mr Grice was asked: "How can you know what plans to make if you don't have any officials from a parliament, you don't have a blueprint for what the parliament can or can not do, you don't have any elected members and you don't have any enabling legislation?"

Mr Grice said he drew many of the ideas for the blueprint of a Scottish Parliament from Westminster.

Lord Fraser questioned why the floor space in the civil service-drafted plans for a building had suddenly expanded after Sir David Steel became presiding officer.

He also asked Mr Grice about an exhibition organised by the Scottish Office to run from December 1997 to January 1998 which showed off the four sites that were in the running.

Lord Fraser suggested that this was a "sham".

Mr Grice denied this and insisted the exhibition was about being "as open as possible" with information rather than seeking views from the public.

Chartered surveyor John Clement revealed that the Holyrood site became an option after a chance meeting on an Edinburgh to Glasgow train.

Mr Clement said he knew Scottish and Newcastle Breweries was looking to move its headquarters from Holyrood.

Following the conversation with Scottish Office officials, conducted while standing on a crowded train, he began working on turning Holyrood into a fourth candidate.

DAY SIX - Thursday, 6 November

Leading civil servant Alistair Brown said the initial estimate for the Scottish Parliament building was for the "most expensive" option.

The former director of administrative services at the Scottish Office said the costings of between 10m and 40m were supposed to offer a structure of High Court standards and not a "bog-standard building".

John D.Campbell said the original estimate contained in the July 1997 devolution White Paper had been for a fairly basic building.

Donald Dewar
Donald Dewar was said to be enthusiastic about Holyrood
However, Mr Brown, a former director of administrative services at the Scottish Office, said he had reached different conclusions in two submissions he made to the then secretary of state, Donald Dewar, on 6 June and 12 June, 1997.

He said: "The quotations in the 6 June submission I would not describe as being for a bog standard building.

"From what I can recall, of the cost basis of the advice, the costs were for a High Court building standard for the public areas of the building and office standard for the rest, MSP offices and so on.

"High Court standards are the most expensive line within a quantity surveyor's ready reckoner for costings."

Lord Fraser asked where the 10m figure had come from.

Mr Brown said the figure appeared to cover the cost of refurbishing the old Royal High School on Calton Hill.

He insisted that the Calton Hill option remained on the table "right up to the wire".

DAY SEVEN - Wednesday, 12 November

The inquiry heard that plans for a parliament complex on Calton Hill in Edinburgh at a cost of about 40m were devised by a development company owned by the city council.

Economic Development and Investment (EDI) put forward two proposals in 1997 for construction work on Calton Hill with budgets of 36m and 43.5m.

EDI chief executive Ian Wall said one of the plans would have created a square in front of St Andrew's House which could have been used as an area of "national celebration".

Mr Wall said: "We wanted to create a new formal square at the junction of North Bridge, Princes Street, Leith Street and Waterloo Place, in front of Register House and the old GPO.

"Then we wanted to transform Waterloo Place into a grander boulevard, culminating in a civic square or national square in front of St Andrew's House, a new parliament building, so as to create a place of national celebration."

Mr Wall insisted the Calton Hill development would have met many of the criteria for the building, including its city centre location and its impressive views.

DAY EIGHT - Thursday, 13 November

Former Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond said Holyrood's late emergence as the parliament site left him feeling "suspicious and let down".

He said he "smelt a rat" when Mr Dewar phoned him to say that "an unprecedented opportunity" had presented itself.

Until the phone call in December 1997 he had believed that Calton Hill was the favoured location for the new parliament building.

Scottish & Newcastle brewery had offered its site at Holyrood and Mr Dewar thought that it needed to be considered.

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond said he felt "let down"
But Mr Salmond told Mr Dewar that the process of introducing Holyrood was "improper" and he insisted that Holyrood should be subject to the same scrutiny as the other three sites.

An article in The Herald newspaper in January 1998 led to more disappointment.

It quoted Labour insiders who said that the decision to choose the Holyrood site had been made and that Mr Dewar had never wanted the Calton Hill site because it was a "Nationalist Shibboleth".

The phrase refers to a Biblical tale in which outsiders can be identified and excluded by use of a linguistic password.

Mr Salmond said he did not know if the views expressed in the article were those of Mr Dewar, but "Donald was one of the few people who would use a word like shibboleth".

He told the inquiry that problems with the project were concealed from parliament and the public.

DAY NINE - Friday, 14 November

Scottish Office experts were initially opposed to Holyrood being the site of the new Scottish Parliament , a witness said.

Anthony Andrew, now head of estate services at the Scottish Executive, said that up until Holyrood's introduction, Calton Hill was the front-runner.

He sent a hand-written memo which was shown to the inquiry comparing Holyrood to the three candidates - Calton Hill, Haymarket and Leith.

In it, he said Holyrood was not really an attractive option and in his view was not a contender because it was peripheral and had poor communications.


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