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Hundreds of millions wasted by SNP incompetence

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FAILING AND DELAYED procurement projects are burning a very big hole in Scottish taxpayers’ pockets – SNP ministers can’t seem to stop themselves from scuppering contracts they oversee themselves.

The scandal of the CalMac ferry contract is a good example. In 2015 the SNP chose the highest bidder, the shipyard Ferguson Marine, to build two ferries. Constriction began before design was completed and six years later the ferries are still not complete and a £97 million contract is now expected to cost at least £230 million.

The £840 million Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, which eventually opened in 2015, was another SNP procurement disaster, with sewage leaking into operating theatres and a series of other dangerous contamination problems. At least four people died as a consequence. Infections caused by pigeon droppings spreading through contaminated air vents caused the deaths of two patients. Staff had raised concerns about safety but were ignored. For example, in 2014, before the hospital opened, a consultant microbiologist raised issues in writing but was told, “you’re new to Glasgow, but here we don’t put things in writing because of inquiries and things.” The SNP has since been forced to appoint a public inquiry but these take time and will not report until well after the May 2021 elections.

Other procurement disasters include the saga of the sick children’s hospital in Little France, Edinburgh, which was originally due to open in 2012, but only opened at the end of March after incessant delays over the last decade. It was originally meant to cost £150 million, but faults in the air conditioning and drainage systems not only delayed opening, but added a further £90 million to the bill while it lay empty.  An inquiry into the repeated failure of the Edinburgh hospital is due to begin in September 2021.

Delayed and costly procurement failures add up. IT contracts in major sectors such as policing, the health services and government quangos have led to extra costs of over £250 million. Police Scotland’s new computer system cost an additional £100 million, while NHS 24’s IT system cost £131 million to fix, £55.2m more than the £75.8m that had been expected.  Smaller extra costs include £120,000 on a skills development online scheme and £440,000 on the Scottish Prison Service Procurement System. It keeps adding up.

A £3 billion dualling project of the A9 from Perth to Inverness, split into eleven sections and initially pegged to be complete by 2025, will be delayed for years – “nearer to 2030”. Construction has not begun for miles of the route. Meanwhile, rail transport infrastructure from Perth to Inverness has remained largely unimproved for a century.

The litany of SNP failures in major projects goes on and on. There is of course the Aberdeen bypass, which opened two years late at an additional cost of £64 million. In January 2020 the SNP admitted its flagship superfast broadband plan, which aimed to provide high-speed internet to every home in Scotland at the cost of £600 million, would be two years late. This programme, known as R100, was heavily trumpeted in the SNP’s 2016 manifesto – Nicola Sturgeon pledged to “deliver 100 per cent superfast broadband coverage for Scotland by the end of the next Parliament.” The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, even promised to resign if the target was not fulfilled.

By March 2021, the SNP admitted that rollout to the Scottish highlands will not be complete until 2026, a delay of five years caused by a botched procurement process. Every home in Scotland was promised superfast broadband by this year. A Caithness businessman commented that:

“The never-ending promises made to Highland communities and businesses from successive SNP ministers have shown to be meaningless, with thousands left without even the most basic form of broadband in every corner of remote and rural Scotland. How can we believe that the Scottish Government will deliver a gigabit network in five years’ time when they have failed miserably to deliver speeds a 30th of that level in the last four years.” 

The delays came, at no surprise, as a result of a series of failures to arrange contractor installations of the superfast cables. The SNP failed to spend any funds on the project for some years after the manifesto commitment was made in 2016 but continues to talk the talk. Well, it’s now March 2021 and new elections for Holyrood are now in process, while the parliamentary session ends at the end of April – with no possibility of the target being met. No resignation has yet been announced.

These large project failures demonstrate the SNP’s lack of interest in and aptitude for effective administration of government. The SNP is much more concerned with spending large amounts on political posturing and advertising budgets. The boring job of just getting government done competently is clearly not one which interests the SNP.

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Max Young is an undergraduate student at the University of Edinburgh.

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