An independent inquiry should be held into the Scottish Government’s handling of an ill-fated rail link project which swallowed up £30 million of taxpayers’ cash before it was ditched, Labour has said.
Finance secretary John Swinney announced the Glasgow Airport Rail Link (Garl) would be scrapped four years ago in order to save the public purse £176m amid soaring costs.
Now Labour has raised concerns after it emerged some land bought for the scheme was sold to a businessman whose firm had previously owned it – at a £790,000 loss to the taxpayer.
The party insists there should be an audit of all transactions associated with the scheme, amid growing concerns about the decision to end the project.
Labour’s infrastructure spokesman James Kelly told MSPs yesterday that government agency Transport Scotland was involved with a study group which raised the prospect of a new rail link, while land acquired for the initial scheme was being sold off.
“This is a scandal, not just of money wasted, but a failure of government,” he said.
“Questions remain about this. Is it sheer incompetence on behalf of the government and Transport Scotland or was it political spite to kill the Garl project off? It’s quite clear [transport secretary] Keith Brown is not in control of his department or his brief.”
Mr Kelly added: “We need a full audit on these matters to scrutinise these transactions.”
The rail link was scrapped by the Scottish Government after costs soared from £7.8m to £70m on the airport campus aspect of the project.
Labour leader Johann Lamont highlighted a deal by car park and commercial land firm Airlink during ill-tempered exchanges at First Minister’s Questions in September.
Four parcels of land in Paisley were bought for a total of £840,000 on behalf of the Scottish Government in 2008 to prepare for the project, Ms Lamont told parliament.
But after the scheme was scrapped, the land failed to sell at a public auction and was then bought back by Airlink chairman John McGlynn for £50,000.
Mr McGlynn reacted angrily to Labour’s approach at the time, insisting everything was “above board, transparent, in the public domain and open to scrutiny”.
Mr Brown said Labour’s claims that the land sell-off lacked transparency were “not true”.
He added: “We kept parliament informed of the costs associated with Garl project and of our intention to dispose of land throughout 2010. We could not have been clearer in doing that.”
The land bought up to make way for the link was subsequently sold off in line with the guidance set out in the Scottish Public Finance manual, he said.
Conservative Alex Johnstone backed the government’s decision to ditch the Garl scheme as the costs began to spiral, but said the prospect of a cheaper alternative should be looked into.
A new link could be built by private firms, instead of more taxpayers’ cash being ploughed into the project, he added.