£88k Holyrood desk 'failing'

IT cost £88,000 and caused a storm of protest - but now a report has said the controversial reception desk in the Scottish Parliament's public entrance is not up to the job.

And Holyrood bosses are considering buying a second desk to help cope with different types of visitor to the building.

The 36ft curved desk, designed by David Colwell, was branded "a ludicrous waste of public money" when its cost was revealed three years ago.

But the MSPs who commissioned it insisted it was a work of art and "extraordinary value for money". The desk, just inside the main entrance, has up to six separate work stations where staff can help members of the public.

But consultants called in by the parliament to review visitor services in the building found there was "confusion" at the reception desk when people arrived for events. And although a temporary desk could be set up to process conference delegates, it had no computer facilities.

Their report recommended a dedicated reception desk for events should be introduced. They also found that although staff were meant to be based permanently at the reception desk, there was not enough storage and too much noise, so extra desks had to be found in the "back office" area.

The parliament has also had to improve lighting levels for staff working at the reception desk.

Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald said the original desk had been "the biggest rip-off". She said: "It was a folly every bit as much as the folly on Calton Hill."

And she was scornful of plans to buy a second desk. "If they wait till the summer, they'll catch the MFI sale," she said.

The report by Edinburgh-based management consultants Richard Gerald Associates (RGA) said many visitors arrived at the parliament with little idea of what to expect. It said: "A dedicated desk would improve the sense of arrival and orientation for events delegates and ensure their requirements were fully met."

The report listed the financial implications as "the cost of installing and equipping desk" and recommended the desk should be in place within a year.

There was an outcry over the desk, made of Scottish sycamore and oak but designed and built in Wales, when its price was revealed in January 2003.

And today Independent Conservative MSP Brian Monteith said there was no need for another desk. "Surely the solution is for delegates or visitors attending a particular event to be asked their business and directed to the appropriate person behind the existing desk rather than requiring further expenditure."

Liberal Democrat MSP Donald Gorrie was

not convinced the existing reception desk was being used to full capacity.

"You could have two separate queues at the same desk," he suggested.

"They don't need to buy such an expensive one."

A parliament spokeswoman said: "What is being considered is the possibility of putting a dedicated desk in the main hall to receive event delegates.

"This would replace the temporary tables currently in use. No decision has been taken on this and no cost options have been produced."

Contractor in hot water after pond tank leaks

THE controversial ponds in front of the Scottish Parliament have been hit by a new problem.

The tank which supplies water to the three pools was found to be leaking and the contractor who fitted it was ordered to carry out urgent repairs. The ponds have been plagued by trouble since the 431 million Holyrood building opened two years ago.

Problems with various machines designed to clean, pump and drain the water have led to the ponds being emptied twice and temporary fences have been erected around them after a visitor fell into one of them.

A parliament spokeswoman said the leak had now been sorted at the contractor's expense. But it had been decided to drain them for cleaning and painting.