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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 May, 2004, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
Fraser in civil servants broadside
Lord Fraser
Lord Fraser voiced concern about cost estimates
Civil servants have been accused of misleading MSPs over the cost of the new parliament building by the head of the Holyrood Inquiry.

Lord Fraser said they concealed higher cost estimates when control of the project transferred to MSPs in 1999.

He said the higher figure - prepared privately by a cost consultant - should have been disclosed to late Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar and MSPs.

This was particularly crucial as there was a tight vote on the issue.

Civil servants adhered to a lower figure, arguing that they could manage the extra costs out.

Lord Fraser was speaking as the inquiry into the spiralling cost of the new Holyrood parliament reconvened to take evidence from two witnesses.

Would it not have been appropriate to put the secretary of state in the position that he could tell parliament that the figure he had in front of him of what it was going to cost was 89m?
Lord Fraser
Turning to the first witness, the project's chief architectural adviser, Dr John Gibbons, Lord Fraser said: "It doesn't look very good, does it?"

The project team of civil servants told Mr Dewar in the middle of 1999 that the construction cost of the building had risen from 50m to 62m.

However, he was not advised that cost consultant Hugh Fisher had estimated the construction cost at 89m.

Mr Dewar gave the 62m figure to the Scottish Parliament in a debate in June 1999.

On that occasion, MSPs narrowly voted to press ahead with the building which had then been transferred to their control.

Lord Fraser said: "It looks rather as though those who were involved in this were determined to keep the figure down as low as possible even to the point of concealing it from the parliament in the hope that the project would go ahead.

"It was a very narrow vote on this in the Scottish Parliament in the middle of 1999.

Dr John Gibbons
Dr John Gibbons was giving evidence
"Would it not have been appropriate to put the secretary of state in the position that he could tell parliament that the figure he had in front of him of what it was going to cost was 89m?"

Lord Fraser said he believed that Mr Dewar had referred to the 62m figure "in good faith", unaware of the additional 27m.

He said: "I have to tell you, Dr Gibbons, that I have done this job in the past and if people or civil servants generally take out professionally assessed figures, that would at least have been signalled.

"I have read the reports to the secretary of state and there is no mention whatsoever that Mr Fisher thinks this is going to amount to a construction cost of 89m.

"He makes an evaluation of the figure and this wasn't reported to the secretary of state and never allowed to go before parliament. It doesn't look very good, does it?"

We were definitely trying to reduce the cost of the project
Dr John Gibbons
Laura Dunlop QC, counsel for the Scottish Executive, offered to answer Lord Fraser's concerns in written submissions.

But he said: "I don't want submissions, I want evidence."

Dr Gibbons stressed that the project team removed the 27m from the estimate because they believed the costs could be "managed out".

He said: "Whilst it is true that quite a lot of the risks identified in the 27m came about, I would argue that a lot of them didn't have to come about if what should have happened had happened; namely very firm cost control.

"We were definitely trying to reduce the cost of the project."

Dr Gibbons said that Mr Fisher was aware of the 62m figure and added: "What they did believe was that Mr Fisher was with them at the time of that figure."

The inquiry saw a minute of a meeting in July 1999 in which Mr Fisher stressed that he would stick to the 89m figure "from our professional and insurance stand point".

Original cost

Dr Gibbons said: "I don't recall him expressing that concern, I recall he was fully aware of the 62m put forward."

The chief architectural adviser will be followed in the witness chair by David Lewis, from structural engineers Ove, Arup & Partners, who will give evidence on Friday.

The 431m parliament is due to be officially opened in October. Its cost was originally estimated at 90m back in 1997.

The appearance of Dr Gibbons and Mr Lewis marks the end of evidence to the inquiry.

Towards the end of the May there will be closing speeches from the inquiry's counsel, John Campbell QC, and advocates representing other parties.

Lord Fraser hopes to deliver his substantive report at the end of the summer.

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