FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon under fire over Forth Road Bridge

Nicola Sturgeon today faced claims that the Forth Bridge budget was “hammered” in recent years as ministers lost a “gamble” it would last until the new crossing opened.

The First Minister was grilled on the subject repeatedly at FMQs. Picture: PA
The First Minister was grilled on the subject repeatedly at FMQs. Picture: PA

Opposition leaders attacked the SNP leader at First Ministers Questions over the closure which was prompted widespread disruption for commuters and businesses.

Labour leader Kezia Dugdale pointed to official documents from the former bridge operator which show it suffered a 58 per cent cut to its budget before the current crack was found which brought about its closure.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The First Minister insisted the Government is determined to get the bridge re-opened early in the new year after repairs to the damaged area are completed although this is weather dependent.

Ms Dugdale said minutes from a Forth Estuary Transport Authority (FETA) meeting in October 2013 point out that Scottish Government cuts had resulted in a 58 per cent cut in its budget.

This means that “a number of capital projects had to be deferred beyond 2015” according to the minutes which were read to MSPs by the Labour leader today.

“That deferral of part or all of these projects does increase the risk to the long term structural integrity of the bridge,” the documents state.

Ms Dugdale then told MSPs: “That’s key projects delayed because of SNP Government cuts.

“Short-term decisions made at the expense of the long-term future of an important national asset. We have budgets cut, privatization of services and cancelled repairs.

“Instead of constantly trying to avoid the blame, it’s time for the SNP Government to accept responsibility.”

It emerged yesterday that proposed works earmarked for 2010 - which were cancelled - would have replaced the area where the crack occurred.

But Ms Sturgeon played down the concerns over maintenance cuts.

“The work considered in 2010 was prompted by concerns about another part of the truss not the part that is now cracked,” she said.

The decision not to proceed with the work was undertaken by FETA, the First Minister said, which is independent of ministers.

Ms Sturgeon said the Government did not have a “crystal ball” back then to predict that the crack would have appeared five years later.

But she added; “We did have the foresight to know that an ageing structure did need replaced. That is why this Government took the decision to build a new Forth Replacement Crossing - a decision that would not have been taken had Labour remained in government.”

And she told commuters in Fife that her priority was to get the bridge re-opened - to all vehicles - early in the new year.

“This Government is absolutely focussed on continuing to do what we have been doing since last Thursday night, making sure that we are minimising as far as possible the disruption that is being caused by this closure and even more importantly making sure that we are supporting those who are working right now - round the clock - to get this bridge re-opened.”

But Tory leader Ruth Davidson said: “I don’t think the First Minister can avoid the fact that the budget for the Forth Road bridge was hammered.”

“It’s clear that the authorities gambled that the old bridge could be patched up until the new one was opened and I think we now know that the gamble has failed.”

Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie called for an overhaul of the engineering inspection regime on the bridge.

“We must have something new, something improved, something different to make the system much more robust, because the chaos in Fife has been dramatic and we cannot afford a repeat.”