THE Forth Road Bridge faces a potential “double whammy” from budget cuts and privatisation plans, it was claimed today.
Lawrence Marshall, former convener of the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (FETA), said maintenance of the 47-year-old structure would inevitably be hit by a 58 per cent reduction in capital funding under the Scottish Government’s spending review.
And he warned the decision to put management and maintenance of both the existing bridge and the new Forth Replacement Crossing out to tender meant a private contractor would also be taking a profit from the available resources.
The FETA board is due to receive a report next month on “re-prioritising” maintenance projects on the bridge to cope with the cut of more than £19 million over the next three years.
Bridgemaster Barry Colford has already told board members that essential works will have to be “reduced in scope or postponed”.
Transport Minister Keith Brown announced earlier this week that a competitive tender exercise would be held for one contractor to operate the existing bridge and the new crossing. FETA will be scrapped and the 70-strong workforce transferred to the new contractor.
Mr Marshall, a former Labour city councillor, said the move amounted to the privatisation of bridge maintenance.
He said: “Unless there are huge inefficiencies within FETA – and no-one has suggested there are – the profit element will cut into the available funding for maintenance and operation of the bridge.
“What is taken off in profit by the contractor is money not available for maintenance because it’s going to the shareholders, whereas at the moment the shareholders are the local people of the Lothians and Fife. It’s a potential double whammy – less money coming in from the Scottish Government for capital projects and a private contractor taking out a profit.”
He also pointed out if FETA had been given the role of operating the two bridges, it would have been able to borrow money at lower interest rates than any contractor.
Government agency Transport Scotland defended the decision to contract out operation of the two crossings.
A spokesman said: “This decision ensures the management and maintenance of the new bridge is undertaken to the highest standard, provides best value for money, best protects jobs and is fully co-ordinated with the management and maintenance of the existing Forth Road Bridge.
“FETA’s allocation within the recent spending review will ensure a prioritised approach to all essential maintenance over the spending review period.
“Transport Scotland will continue to ensure the integrity and safety of the Forth Road Bridge in line with the rest of the trunk road network.”