BUSINESSES affected by the unexpected closure of the Forth Road Bridge could claim “substantial” compensation from the Scottish Government, it was claimed yesterday.
The Road Haulage Association was among the first organisation to say that its members would expect to be compensated over extra costs they will incur by having to make lengthy detours, in addition to the financial burden of having to pay substitute drivers to comply with legislation over working hours for lorry drivers.
Malcolm Reid, Scottish director of business for the RHA said: “It is incredibly unfair that hauliers and our clients will have to bear the additional costs. The problem with the bridge is something which should have been noticed earlier. There is, potentially, a case here for compensation from the government.
“National freight has tended to go up the east coast so obviously there’s an impact there. Major companies on the Fife side including Amazon and Diageo, with hundreds of deliveries in and out per day, and that’s only two examples.”
Reid said that the increased journey times, caused by the closure of the bridge last Thursday night to allow repairs to be carried out, could cause further problems.
“There’s also the matter of legislative hours with drivers needing a break after four-and-a-half hours. So, with increased times and being stuck in traffic they may not be able to complete the journey in their working day,” he said.
Reid added that the UK is currently experiencing a lorry driver shortage, with vacancies for around 40,000-50,000 drivers, leading to difficulties finding substitute drivers to complete journeys.
Last night Murdo Fraser, Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said the Scottish Government could be facing “substantial claims” if it was found to be negligent over the broken section beneath the southbound carriageway which has forced the closure of the bridge until at least January.
“We need a full explanation from the Scottish Government as to how this situation was allowed to develop at the Forth Road Bridge and whether there has been any failure of the inspection and maintenance regime which allowed this to happen,” he said.
“If it transpires there has been such a failure I would expect the Scottish Government and its agencies to be facing substantial claims from businesses and others who have lost large sums of money as a result.”
Alex Rowley, Scottish Labour deputy leader and MSP for Fife, urged the Scottish Government to put in place a strong support package for small businesses who could lose out financially.
In a letter to SNP transport minister Derek Mackay, Rowley called on him to make a statement in parliament outlining the steps the government is taking to ensure the disruption to businesses and commuters is kept to a minimum.
Rowley said: “The focus of the government must be on supporting businesses and commuters affected by the bridge closure. Questions about what caused this problem are for another day.
“We need a clear support package to be put in place to help businesses at what is usually the busiest time of the year.
“People travelling to and from Fife must also be supported as much as possible. We already know that transport links simply aren’t good enough in normal times, with a lack of services and not enough carriages. We need dramatic action from the government, including a substantial increase in the number of train carriages being used.”
Last night ScotRail announced that train capacity is to be increased by 6,500 seats to ease disruption caused by the closure. Extra trains and buses are to be put on from tomorrow to ease congestion on alternative road routes between Fife and Edinburgh.
Around 30 Stagecoach buses will also be used as part of a park-and-ride priority service between Fife and Edinburgh, using the Ferrytoll and Halbeath sites.
The announcement was made following a meeting of the Scottish Government’s resilience committee chaired by the First Minister.
Motorists travelling into Scotland are also to be encouraged to use routes in the west of the country to ease congestion around the bridge. Ministers are to speak to businesses hit by the closure next week to find out how they can help.
Mackay said: “We know this will be a very difficult time for commuters, businesses and hauliers and we remain extremely grateful for people’s patience while we work on strengthening alternative travel plans and minimising disruption during the closure.”
One of Fife’s most popular tourist attractions issued a statement saying it was “business as usual”. Adrian Duffey of Deep Sea World said: “We, like everyone else, just hope repair work will be completed as quickly as possible.”