£431 ... but no-one is to blame

LORD Fraser today spared any individual from overall blame for the £431 million Holyrood fiasco.

The civil service bore the brunt of the responsibility for the catalogue of problems, with a series of "systemic failures" highlighted

in his long-awaited report. He identified "a series of catastrophic, expensive decisions" for causing the new Parliament building to being plagued by soaring costs and delays.

Lord Fraser branded the decision over the type of contract used as "the single factor in which most of the misfortunes that have befallen the project can be attributed".

In his 267-page report, he said it "beggars belief" that ministers were not informed of the controversial decision to adopt a construction management contract - which left taxpayers bearing the risk for the project.

He also cleared the late Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar, saying there was "no evidence" he misled Parliament over the mounting costs of the building.

Unveiling his report at a press conference today, Lord Fraser said: "There is not a single villain in this piece. There are a series of catastrophic expensive decisions.

"The Scottish Parliament has a building that meets the vision that Donald Dewar and his colleagues had set out to deliver.

"There were systematic failures. By that, I mean I think the decision to pursue the route of construction management was adopted by a group of people that were out of their depth."

Referring to the former Presiding Officer of the Parliament, Lord Fraser said: "With the honourable exception of Sir David Steel on behalf of the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body accepting some responsibility for increased costs, the ancient walls of the Canongate have echoed only to the cry of ‘’it wisnae me’. That has made my task more difficult.

Lord Fraser recommended in the report that civil servants should not "filter" the views of independent professional advisers, but that the judgements expressed by those advisers should be put to ministers alongside any disagreement officials may have with them.

In his conclusions, Lord Fraser said Mr Dewar had been determined to provide a site and a building for the new parliament as soon as possible.

"The timetable for construction dictated the adoption of a ‘fast track’ procurement method, entailing relatively high risk.

"The decision to adopt construction management was taken without an adequate evaluation or understanding of the extent of risk involved and without being referred to ministers."

He said the figure of 40-50 million originally put before the Scottish public was never going to be enough for a new building of innovative design.

And he said whenever there was a conflict between quality and cost, quality was preferred. "Not until it was too late to change was there any real appreciation of the complexity of the architect’s evolving design and its inevitable cost."

But Lord Fraser said it would be wrong to "lay all the blame at the door of a deceased wayward Spanish architectural genius."

He said: "Costs rose because the client - first the Secretary of State and latterly the parliament - wanted increases and changes or at least approved of them in one manifestation or another."

Lord Fraser said Mr Dewar could have proceeded "in a more leisurely fashion" with the choice of a site for the parliament without putting devolution at risk.

But he said there was no evidence to suggest any covert arrangement between Mr Dewar and site owners Scottish & Newcastle over the choice of Holyrood.

He said he did not challenge the "aesthetic judgement" of the panel which chose Enric Miralles to design the Holyrood building but he said not enough questions were asked about the proposed joint company formed between Mr Miralles, EMBT in Barcelona and Edinburgh-based RMJM.

He said the 50m "so-called budget" never had any basis in reality. "This unique, one-off building could never have been built for 50m and I am puzzled that the myth has been perpetuated that it would."

But Lord Fraser reserves his most stringent criticism for the decision on construction management, taken at a meeting on July 21, 1998, attended by members of the design team, Scottish Office chief architect Dr John Gibbons, project sponsor Barbara Doig and adviser Bill Armstrong.

Lord Fraser said: "It verges on the embarrassing to conclude, as I do, that virtually none of the key questions about construction management were asked. Similarly none of the disadvantages of construction management appear to have been identified and evaluated."

And he said advice offered by Mr Armstrong was poor and "betrayed either a surprising oversight or at any rate a misunderstanding on his part". "The selection of construction management was the single factor in which most of the misfortunes that have befallen the project can be attributed.

"Against that background I am highly critical of the failure of Mr Armstrong and Mrs Doig to ensure that there was an appropriate evaluation of the highly risky contract strategy that was adopted, particularly in view of the choice of architect.

"I regard the decision to adopt construction management without advising ministers of the intended risks and the inflexible insistence on a rigid programme as among the most flawed decisions in the history of the project. It beggars belief that ministers were not asked to approve the proposal."

Paul Grice, clerk and chief executive to the parliament, also came in for criticism. Referring to the costs of the project in late 1999, Lord Fraser said: "Mr Grice cannot avoid the earlier criticism for lack of openness with the SPCB." He said that at an earlier stage he had not been "as personally engaged with the project as might have ben expected".

On the controversial issue of Mrs Doig’s decision to reinstate construction giant Bovis to the shortlist for the role of construction manager after they had been dropped on cost grounds, Lord Fraser said she was entitled to do so but should also have reinstated the other company left off the final list.

Lord Fraser also criticised the appointment of Mrs Doig to the key role of project sponsor, effectively the Scottish Office’s main representative on the project, saying someone with greater familiarity with construction should have been given the job.

Lord Fraser highlighted problems with the architectural partnership between EMBT and RMJM. He said: "The two practices had very different cultures and ways of working."

He added: "With Enric Miralles insisting on being personally involved in all design issues during these formative stages, there was inevitable delay and destruction caused by his geographical detachment."

Lord Fraser said that so far as the architects were concerned the term "joint venture" was a misnomer.

He criticised the decision by civil servants to withhold information from Donald Dewar about "extra risks" costs at the time the project was handed over from the Scottish Office to the parliament.

During a debate on June 17, 1999, Mr Dewar told MSPs the construction cost for the new building was 62 million - when cost consultants had put the figure at 89 million. However, Lord Fraser said: "There was no evidence whatsoever to suggest he deliberately or knowingly misled MSPs. He relied on cost figures given to him by senior civil servants."

Timetable of the controversy that spiralled out of control

THE key dates which show how the Holyrood building project ballooned in cost and size:

• July 1997: The White Paper says the building will cost between 10 million and 40m to construct. An estimated 329 staff are expected to occupy it.

• November 1997: The gross floor area is set at 15,880 square metres.

• December 1997: The construction cost increases to between 50m and 65m.

• April 1998: The design competition brief says 614 staff will use the building.

• July 1998: The gross floor rises to 17,040sq m.

• October 1998: The gross floor area increases again to 21,394sq m.

• November 1998: The number of expected staff members rises to 713.

• May 1999: Gross floor area goes up to 22,236sq m.

• June 1999: The official cost rises to 62m for construction and 109m overall.

• September 1999: Three months after the MSPs take over, the size of the building increases to 26,572sq m.

• June 2000: Following major design changes, the gross floor area rises to 28,791sq m.

• August 2000: Another increase lifts the size to 29,339sq m.

• September 2000: The cost rises to 105m for construction and 195m overall.

• November 2001: Another increase brings the cost of the project to 211m for construction and 241m overall. The number of staff almost doubles to 1180 - the final increase.

• December 2001: Presiding Officer Sir David Steel tells the parliament’s Finance Committee that the cost of the project will rise to 260m because of rescheduling work.

• March 2002: The Finance Committee discovers that the cost has risen to 266m.

• October 2002: The cost breaks through the 300m barrier.

• December 2002: The new total becomes 310.5m, with 14.2m for landscaping.

• January 2003: Sir David confirms that the cost has risen to 323.9m, or 338m including landscaping.

• June 2003: New Presiding Officer George Reid says he is "furious" after being forced to concede that the cost of the new parliament will increase by a further 37m to 375m, including the price of landscaping the site. The project’s five main consultants agree to cap their fees.

• September 2003: The price breaks through the 400m barrier.

• February 2004: Mr Reid gives a new total of 431m for the cost of the parliament.