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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 September, 2004, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Fraser lays final Holyrood stone
By Stephanie Todd
For BBC News Online in Edinburgh

Lord Fraser
Lord Fraser joked that his report was on time and within budget
Reporters arrived in numbers at the Scottish Land Court in Edinburgh, eagerly anticipating the arrival of Lord Fraser and his much-hyped Holyrood Inquiry report.

So too did the inquiry team, emerging from months of helping to analyse the mountain of evidence gathered during the sessions held from October to May.

"There's more of them than there is of us," remarked one journalist as photographers, cameramen and political writers jostled up the stone steps leading into the grey court building.

When Lord Fraser's report was finally brought forward, stacked high in plain brown boxes, media members surged forward desperate to grab the first copies.

A short time later, Lord Fraser himself appeared - arguably looking more relaxed than anyone - to be photographed and answer questions put forward by the assembled pack.

"I'm delighted to say that my report is by its due date and within budget," he joked as he took his seat at the head of the press conference.

Highly critical

Camera shutters clicked and pens were poised to record the peer's every word.

Lord Fraser began by giving a brief overview of his conclusions. He announced that after condensing seven years of Holyrood-related activity in his report he had found "no single victim" who could be held responsible for the project's failings.

The media looked sceptical.

He pressed on. The decision to build a new parliament building using a construction management method - as chosen by the then Holyrood project manager Bill Armstrong - was without doubt the "biggest single error".

Land court
His findings were revealed at the Scottish Land Court
Both Mr Armstrong and project sponsor Barbara Doig got particular mention in his report, with Lord Fraser saying he was "highly critical of their failures", but he stopped short of pointing the finger of blame in their direction.

Civil servants in general were heavily criticised for not informing ministers of the growing problems and increasing costs associated with the Holyrood project.

Indeed the late First Minister Donald Dewar was seemingly cleared in Lord Fraser's report.

"Donald Dewar, when he was first Scottish secretary and then first minister, had put before him reports that were simply wrong," said Lord Fraser.

Call for closure

But heads were shaking on the media benches. "The politicians do seem to be getting off very lightly," whispered one political writer mid-scribble.

In fact many remarked after the inquiry that, while civil servants may well have been economical with the truth on many an occasion, shouldn't ministers have taken the initiative by asking more questions?

An opportunity that was seized upon by MSP Margo MacDonald, present at the press conference as a representative of a daily Edinburgh newspaper.

Press pack
Journalists gathered in anticipation of Lord Fraser's findings
Lord Fraser smiled in recognition as she added her voice to those asking for further clarification on his findings.

Speaking outside the land court, Ms MacDonald said she felt the peer had delivered what he had promised - to investigate precisely what went wrong with the project and why.

But she admitted disappointment that he "hadn't called for either thumbscrews or stocks".

And that seemed to be the general consensus of those present.

Later, First Minister Jack McConnell made a brief appearance in the sunshine on the steps of his Bute House residence.

He defended the role of the civil service in general with a dozen microphones jockeying for prime position under his chin.

It seemed that the blame was being placed on everyone, and no-one.

Presiding Officer George Reid called for closure in a short statement given to the media from inside the new parliament building, saying Scotland now needed to look forward to the work the parliament would do, rather than look back on the building itself.

Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell welcomed the peer's report
But he declined to answer any further questions from reporters who were still looking for someone willing to name names.

"The contracts for Holyrood didn't make the mistakes," remarked one journalist, "but the people running them did."

Another described Lord Fraser's report as "weak", while a colleague disagreed, saying it wasn't the "whitewash" he had been told to expect.

But as Lord Fraser himself said: "I don't believe it is for me to sack people".

What everyone present on the day did agree on, however, was that the long-running saga of Holyrood, with all its problems and costs, should never be allowed to happen again.


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