Dewar cleared of misleading MSPs over Holyrood costs

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The Tory peer Lord Fraser today cleared Scotland's former First Minister Donald Dewar of misleading MSPs over the soaring cost of the Scottish Parliament building.

The Tory peer Lord Fraser today cleared Scotland's former First Minister Donald Dewar of misleading MSPs over the soaring cost of the Scottish Parliament building.

He insisted there was "no single villain of the piece" on whom blame could be pinned for the fiasco surrounding the controversial £431 million building.

But Lord Fraser said the late First Minister may have rushed ahead with the Holyrood project because he believed it would make it harder for the Tories to scrap devolution if they returned to power.

And the peer said he was surprised that Mr Dewar did not leave the decisions about a new Scottish Parliament to MSPs since that would have been "democratically correct".

Lord Fraser made his comments at a press conference at the Scottish Land Court in Edinburgh after he published his 267-page report into the Holyrood fiasco following a six-month inquiry.

He said Mr Dewar would have been wrong to make judgment about the Tories because the Conservatives privately accepted they had no chance of winning the next General Election after Labour's landslide victory in 1997.

He said: "It was suggested to me that maybe one of the reasons why he moved ahead with it so swiftly was that he had some anxiety that if the Conservative Party returned to power it would do as it did in 1979 and that is repeal the Scotland Act and anything to do with devolution."

He said that Mr Dewar wanted to ensure that MSPs were en route to having a permanent home by the time of the first Scottish Parliament elections in May 1999.

Lord Fraser added: "I think he correctly analysed that if all that had taken place and there had been a change of government it would be that much more difficult for anyone to reverse it, and that's what I am suggesting.

"What I'm saying in my report is that if that was what motivated him, and I really don't know, he was wrong."

He went on: "I have some surprise that he didn't leave it to the Scottish Parliament to decide both on its location and also what should be included in the Parliament building.

"It seems to me to be democratically correct for that Parliament to determine for itself the way it was going to work and what accommodation it was going to have."

Lord Fraser said there was no one individual to blame for the Holyrood problems.

But he added: "There were, however, some catastrophically expensive decisions taken and principal among those was the decision taken - not cleared with ministers - to follow the procurement route of construction management.

"I have very real doubt if the extent of the risk remaining with the public purse was properly understood at the time it was adopted, and I remain concerned that it was not clearly grasped by the Scottish Parliament for nearly two years after the project was handed over to the SPCB when the Parliament gave up trying to find a budget for the building.

"Any building constructed under the procurement model of construction management costs what it costs."

Responsibility for the project passed from the former Scottish Office to the Parliament and its business team - the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) in June 1999.

Lord Fraser said he was "astonished" that civil servants failed to tell Scottish Office ministers or representatives of the new Scottish Parliament about increases in cost estimates coming from the professional cost consultants.

He said it seemed self-evident that those who are democratically accountable for public expenditure should be kept advised of looming increases.

He added: "For year after year they were not."

The Tory peer insisted that the building, which stands at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, was always going to cost more than £200 million and that should have been known at least by March 2000 when a critical independent report was published.

And he added: "It is difficult to be precise but something in excess of £150 million has been wasted in the cost of prolongation flowing from design delays, over-optimistic programming and uncertain authority.

"That is an exceptionally regrettable and an uninspiring start for a new Parliament.

"However I trust that the exposure my inquiry has exhaustively given to these issues will have had the necessary cathartic effect that the Presiding Officer sought."