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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 November, 2004, 17:03 GMT
Holyrood report clears officials
Scottish Parliament building
The new parliament building at Holyrood cost 431m
Civil servants should not face disciplinary action over their role in the Holyrood building project fiasco, an independent report has said.

However, Civil Service Commissioner Alistair Macdonald said ministers felt they may have misled parliament because of advice they received from officials.

The report concluded that those civil servants had acted in good faith.

Opposition parties branded the report "a whitewash" and said the public deserved better.

The new building at Holyrood cost 431m and was officially opened by the Queen in October three years late.

In his report on the Holyrood project, Lord Fraser concluded their was no clear "villain of the piece".

One can now see that they were being asked to steer the ship through the high seas in a gale when their experience had been gained from working on inland waterways
Alistair Macdonald
Civil Service Commissioner
He said that when the project was handed over to Holyrood it took years to "get a grasp" of the process.

However, he criticised civil servants for not passing on higher cost estimates to the late First Minister Donald Dewar.

Mr Macdonald's report said that, in hindsight, questions should have been asked relating to whether the team was up to the job, given that the Holyrood project became "immensely complex".

His report stated: "One can now see that they were being asked to steer the ship through the high seas in a gale when their experience had been gained from working on inland waterways."

'Many lessons'

Scotland's top civil servant John Elvidge had asked the independent investigator to rule on whether his staff should face action over their role in the controversy.

Mr Elvidge said that there were points during the project when officials "fell short of the standards which we expect of ourselves".

The commissioner's report said there were "many lessons to be learned" from the project.

It said procurement guidelines were not properly followed and there was a problem of transparency towards ministers and the public.

Mr Macdonald made several recommendations, including tightening the decision making process on project structure and personnel.

He also suggested improving training for senior civil servants and ensuring future project teams have the necessary skills.

John Elvidge
John Elvidge: "Action in hand"

Responding to the report, Mr Elvidge said: "We have had action in hand relevant to all these issues and I will consider whether we need to strengthen that action in light of the commissioner's advice.

"The commissioner's advice confirms the need for us now to look forward and to build on the improvements we have already made to our procedures and culture within the Scottish Executive to benefit the people of Scotland."

Long-standing project critic Margo MacDonald branded the report "a whitewash" and said the public would have expected something "a bit more analytical".

The independent MSP for the Lothians said: "It looks as though anything short of grand larceny is okay.

"I'm not looking for thumbscrews or stocks in the Canongate, but a report which summarises the behaviour and performance of civil servants being perhaps influenced by rose-tinted spectacles is not on."

'Classic whitewash'

Glasgow Conservative MSP Bill Aitken said the blame did not lie with the civil servants who advised ministers on the project.

"They were doing their master's bidding and shouldn't be sacked for just following orders," he said.

"The orders were issued by Donald Dewar and his Scottish Office ministers who made a series of disastrous decisions in 1997-98. That's where the blame lies."

Scottish National Party MSP Fergus Ewing labelled the report "a classic whitewash in the mould of Richard Nixon".

The member for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber added: "According to the report today, there is nothing wrong with civil servants covering up the truth from ministers."

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