THE cost of the new Forth road bridge has fallen by a further £145 million, finance secretary John Swinney has revealed as he prepares to unveil his spending plans for the year ahead to MSPs today.
The new £1.4-1.45 billion estimated cost is less than half the original predictions of up to £4bn for the biggest infrastructure project in Scotland in a generation.
The Scottish Government is already being urged to channel any savings into boosting jobs and economic growth by opposition parties at Holyrood.
The SNP administration will set out its spending plans for 2014-15 at Holyrood this afternoon, but faces opposition claims of being too focused on independence.
The new budget range for the bridge, the Queensferry Crossing, is down from the previous estimate of £1.45bn to £1.6bn, and has been hailed as “very positive news” by Mr Swinney.
“Over the last few years, we have taken a deliberately Scottish approach to investing in infrastructure. We are supporting an investment-led recovery in distinct contrast to the austerity agenda of the UK government,” he said.
About 90 per cent of supply orders and nearly 60 per cent of sub-contracts have been awarded to 365 Scottish firms and almost 900 workers are employed on site.
The finance secretary added: “While there is no room for complacency, these latest figures also show that Scotland’s biggest infrastructure project in a generation is being well managed. I commend all those involved for their hard work in this success so far, as construction continues on time and under budget.
“This is testament to the efficient management and effective delivery of the project.”
Work has been completed on the riverbed foundations of the three main towers that will support the bridge.
Work has also been completed on the M9 Junction 1A and Fife Intelligent Transport System as part of the project.
The original estimates for the bridge stood at £3.2bn to £4.2bn six years ago. This fell to between £1.7bn and £2.3bn two years later. By the time work got under way in 2011, the cost range was down to £1.45bn-£1.6bn.
The Scottish Government has faced criticism that much of the budget is being spent outside Scotland, with significant orders for steel to build the span placed in China. But ministers say 9,732 out of 10,758 supply orders (90.5 per cent) on the principal contract – worth approximately £61m out of a total of about £85m (72 per cent) – have gone to Scottish firms.
The savings were unveiled as Mr Swinney prepares to unveil the make-up of his £28.6bn annual budget for 2014-15 to MSPs. The budget is down in real terms on last year’s figure as the climate of austerity continues to bite, leaving little wriggle room for big funding announcements.
Opposition leaders are calling for a greater focus from the SNP government on stimulating the economy and creating jobs.
Labour’s finance spokesman Iain Gray said: “This budget is a key test for the SNP. Do they pass a budget which addresses the needs of hard-working Scottish families, or is it merely used as a platform to campaign for the referendum?
“We all know the Scottish Government could act now to boost jobs, economic growth and to tackle the worst excesses of the coalition government. Instead, all we hear is that they can’t do anything. But they can and must act.”
The 2015/16 budget will also see Holyrood handed new tax raising powers over landfill tax and land and buildings transaction tax.
Mr Gray added: “He [Swinney] needs to explain how he intends to use those [powers].”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie is calling on the SNP to reverse cuts to college budgets and extend free childcare to more two-year-olds.