McConnell and Stephen roasted over Forth bridge tolls

JACK McCONNELL and Nicol Stephen were given a roasting by small business leaders when they tried to defend keeping tolls on the Forth Road Bridge for drivers travelling alone.

The Labour and Liberal Democrat leaders promised to scrap tolls altogether on the Tay Road Bridge and end charges for multi-occupancy vehicles crossing the Forth.

But at a hustings for all four main party leaders at Edinburgh's Sheraton Hotel, David Chalmers, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses in Fife, said the policy discriminated against individuals going about their business.

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The First Minister said: "The bridge, as we know, now has a limited lifetime, it already has too many cars and vehicles on it and I believe those parties that are offering to abolish all the tolls on the bridge are saying things to win votes in this election that are short-sighted and irresponsible."

Mr Stephen was shouted down as he told the hustings retaining the charge for single occupancy vehicles was appropriate because it helped tackle congestion.

He said: "I don't think there are many business people that suffer hugely from that 1 toll."

SNP leader Alex Salmond was cheered by the audience when he asked: "Are small businesses meant to give passengers a lift?"

He said: "It is incomprehensible to abolish tolls on the Erskine and Tay bridges and retain them in this ridiculous form on the Forth."

And Tory leader Annabel Goldie also won cheers when she declared it was "absolutely ludicrous" to argue tolls should stay on the Forth bridge when they had been abolished elsewhere.

The SNP said on their "clapometer" count for the evening - which covered a range of small business issues - Mr Salmond won the debate with six bursts of applause to Ms Goldie's four, one for Mr Stephen and none for Mr McConnell.

• Drivers are being reminded that a 4.7 million resurfacing project on the Forth Road Bridge gets under way tonight. The work will see the northbound carriageway between Edinburgh and Fife closed over 16 weekends, with a contraflow in place on the opposite lane. Work will start from 7pm on Fridays.

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The weekend roadworks will stop on June 18 for the busy tourist season, including the Royal Highland Show and the Festival, and they will resume on September 7.