By Martin Kelly
Demands by Scottish Labour that Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon apologise for “mistakes” made in the awarding of Forth Replacement Crossing contracts have been ridiculed by the SNP as the height of hypocrisy.
On the day the project reached a landmark stage, with one of the key sections being lowered into place, Scottish Labour’s Richard Baker demanded an apology over what he claimed was a “missed opportunity” for Scottish firms.
Ms Sturgeon was at the project’s Rosyth dockyard site to see huge sections that are being craned out on to Beamer Rock as part of work on the foundation for the bridge’s central tower. This will be the first part of the central tower structure to be put in place.
With activity underway across the full scheme, the project is now directly supporting its forecast peak complement of around 1200 construction jobs. Over 300 Scottish firms are already benefitting from the subcontracts awarded so far. Over 110 places for training and the long-term unemployed have also been generated to date by the construction.
Commenting, Ms Sturgeon said: “It was a privilege to visit the biggest transport infrastructure project in Scotland for a generation at such an exciting landmark moment. We have around 1,200 people working on the project site, which doesn’t include the significant number of people working for the 300 plus Scottish firms currently working in the subcontracting and supply chain for the project.
“This is clear evidence that the project is creating jobs for Scotland and benefitting the local and national economy. I was delighted to meet some of the young people employed by Scottish firms working on such a crucial phase of the project.”
However, Richard Baker, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, responded by calling for the Deputy First Minister to apologise:
“This is the biggest capital investment in Scottish history and could have been of much greater benefit in kick starting the Scottish economy. But instead the major contracts went to firms overseas when they could have gone to Scottish-based businesses.” he said.
Mr Baker claimed that only £35m of the £174 million worth of contracts had gone to Scottish firms and insisted that SNP claims of a legacy of Scottish jobs was “insulting”.
He added: “If the Cabinet Secretary had any sense of the reality of what has happened over the construction of this bridge then Nicola Sturgeon would be making an apology today for the mistakes she and her Government have made. They have cost Scottish business dear.”
However the SNP hit back by calling Mr Baker: “a hypocrite of the highest order”. As revealed by Newsnet Scotland in March, the procurement regulations used to award the contracts were actually implemented under the former Labour/LibDem Scottish Executive.
The law, which was introduced in 2006, forbids the Scottish Government from discriminating in favour of Scottish companies when awarding contracts.
Claims that Scottish firms were denied steel contracts were also dismissed as far back as March when First Minister Alex Salmond pointed out that the type of steel required was no longer manufactured in Scotland – facilities having been closed down by successive Westminster Governments.
The Scottish government also revealed that no Scottish bids had been received for the steel contracts.
The Labour MSP’s comments come just weeks after Scottish Labour’s Transport Spokesperson suggested that the bridge would not be getting built had Labour been in power.
Two weeks ago, Elaine Murray told Holyrood magazine that the major infrastructure project was “sucking in a great deal of money” and that “the case for a replacement was to a certain extent overblown.”
Ms Murray also implied that the new crossing was a vanity project, saying that the Scottish Government were constructing it simply “to have something that they can show they’ve delivered” – ignoring the severe warnings about the deterioration of the existing Forth Bridge.
Commenting, Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Annabelle Ewing said:
“Instead of congratulating all of those involved in getting us to this milestone day, the Labour Party have instead chosen to rehash the tired old arguments – which have already been completely debunked – and play politics with the issue.
“Even worse – we now know that Labour’s Transport spokesperson was not in favour of the new Forth Crossing. So if Labour were in power, Scotland would not be getting this major investment, and the 1200 jobs on-site today would not exist. Labour are hypocrites of the highest order.
“That’s why over 300 firms in Scotland have benefitted from sub-contracts and supply orders, supporting many hundreds more jobs beyond the 1,200 people employed on-site.
“But Labour can’t see any of these benefits, because they are blinded by their tribal hostility to the SNP.
“While Labour try to work out exactly what their position on the Forth Crossing is, the SNP remains unequivocal in its support for delivering major infrastructure projects to boost Scotland’s economy – on the Forth estuary and beyond.”