CITY transport leader Lesley Hinds has accused transport minister Derek Mackay of trying to “whitewash” the report into the Forth Road Bridge closure and refusing to acknowledge the effect of Scottish Government cuts on maintenance of the crossing.
Former bridgemaster Barry Colford told a Scottish Parliament inquiry that the crucial component at the heart of the emergency three-week closure of the bridge in December was due to be replaced until Scottish Government funding was cut.
He said replacement of the truss end links was included in the 2011 capital programme of works which engineers believed was “needed in our professional opinion”. But a government spending review led to a 58 per cent cut in the bridge’s budget and some of the work had to be dropped.
Cllr Hinds, who was chair of the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (FETA), which ran the bridge, gave similar evidence.
And the inquiry report by the parliament’s infrastructure committee said the decision by FETA to reprioritise projects was “a direct consequence” of the government cuts – though it argued that if it had been seen as a matter of public safety, Feta would have gone back and asked for more funding.
But Cllr Hinds said comments by Mr Mackay during a debate at Holyrood on Tuesday showed he was trying “blame everyone but the Scottish Government”.
Defending the government’s actions, Mr Mackay told MSPs: “We have managed our infrastructure well, continued to invest in it in challenging financial circumstances, made the right interventions and never put public safety at risk, and we have delivered for the country.”
Mr Mackay also got involved in a Twitter spat with Cllr Hinds after she retweeted someone else’s comment that it was “clear funding was cut by Scottish Government”.
Mr Mackay replied: “Lesley, if you read the report you’ll see your evidence was discredited. You are still ‘at it’ whilst other parties had grace.”
Today Cllr Hinds said she had been taken aback by his “snide” remarks, adding: “Are these appropriate comments for a government minister to be making?”
And she said that, far from being discredited, FETA had been praised in the report for its “professional and responsible” approach.
Cllr Hinds said: “The fact is that if the Scottish Government had not made that cut, the work on the truss end link would have been carried out. I would have a bit more respect for the Transport Minister if he accepted that. He seems to blame everyone except the Scottish Government.
“There is no recognition from him that cutting the budget by 58 per cent had a consequence in terms of the truss end link.”
And Cllr Hinds said the report showed the the cost of the repairs to the truss end link on the bridge now was nearly £20 million, compared with the £10m-£15m budgeted for the works when they were first planned and then abandoned.