Page last updated at 13:51 GMT, Thursday, 8 January 2009

SNP under fire on bridge funding

Forth road bridge
The current Forth Road Bridge is in a deteriorating condition

Scottish ministers have been accused of wanting to "burn bridges" instead of building them, as the funding row over the new Forth crossing continued.

Labour and the Tories said the SNP had asked the UK Government for a cash advance for the project just two weeks before announcing the move.

The Treasury later rejected Scottish ministers' request to spread the cost of the 2bn crossing over 20 years.

First Minister Alex Salmond said his approach was the sensible way forward.

Speaking during question time at Holyrood, he said the crossing was the biggest capital project in Scottish history - and had to be built in a strict timescale, by 2017.

But Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said there was growing concern about how the bridge would be paid for.

It makes sense for the biggest capital investment in Scottish history to be profiled over a substantial period of time
Alex Salmond
First minister of Scotland
And he told parliament the row had exposed failings in the government's Scottish Futures Trust, which aims to reduce the reliance on PPP/PFI tie-ups with the private sector for public building projects.

"The SNP wasted two years on the futures trust fantasy, and when that all fell apart they gave the Treasury two weeks to consider their daft alternative - bringing money back from the future to spend now," said Mr Gray.

"The most basic understanding of public finance tells you, this is not credible."

Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Conservative leader, said the first minister was more interested in another row with Westminster than finding a way forward.

She demanded: "Why was a funding request to the Treasury only submitted 14 days before the announcement?"

Miss Goldie went on: "This is a first minister who loves the limelight but shirks the hard graft.

"He would open a can of beans sooner than open discussions with Westminster. He's a man who would rather burn bridges with Westminster than build bridges in Scotland."

'On budget'

Mr Salmond said the bridge would be built using traditional public procurement, which was the only way to deliver it on time and on budget.

He said the cash to pay for it was in the Scottish capital budget, but told MSPs: "If you're having the largest capital project in Scottish history - should you pay for it over three years or should your pay for it over a 20-year period?

"It makes sense for the biggest capital investment in Scottish history to be profiled over a substantial period of time."

The first minister went on to express hopes of reaching an amicable settlement with the Treasury - which he said took six weeks to reply to the Scottish Government's funding request.

"The Treasury doesn't do anything in two weeks," he said.

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