There’s no excusing it – the SNP lays waste in Scotland

There’s no excusing it – the SNP lays waste in Scotland

by Max Young
article from Friday 12, February, 2021

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. 

Take the scandal of the CalMac ferry contract. The shipyard Ferguson Marine was granted in 2015 a contract to build two ferries by the SNP Government-owned Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), which owns the ferries, harbours, ports and infrastructure for ferry services on the west coast, the Firth of Clyde and the Northern Isles. CMAL did not take issue with the fact that a design was not completed before construction began, or that Ferguson Marine didn’t have the requisite space to build two ships at the same time. As a result, a £97 million contract is now expected to cost at least £230 million – as the ferries are late and one is literally rusting while it awaits changes to design flaws which the yard insists are due to the nationalised client’s demands 

Due to begin service in 2018, they are now expected to be ready by 2023. A 129-page cross-party committee report, published in December last year, was a damning indictment on CMAL and the SNP’s procurement disaster. The SNP Islands minister’s response attempted to shift blame onto the contractor and made no reference to the lost millions of pounds of taxpayer money – exemplifying the SNP’s attitude to public services: grab the headlines, get the photoshoot – and move on to the next headline. Meanwhile if the contracts fail there will always be another one to announce to deflect attention away. 

Other procurement disasters include the infamous sick children’s hospital in Edinburgh, originally due to open in 2012, but still not in operation almost 10 years later. A further delay to the opening was announced just a few weeks ago. 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. 

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. Staff had raised concerns 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. 

The litany of SNP failure 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 that 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. 

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 February 2021 and the parliamentary session ends at the end of April with no possibility of the target being met.No resignation has yet been announced. 

The SNP is more than happy, however, to lavish the funds on causes that it holds dear. Take, for example, the spend of £54,378 on “preparation” for civil servants giving testimony on the The Scottish Parliament’s Salmond inquiry – information that has only come to light after the submission of a Freedom of Information request. Civil servants prepared for testimony sessions for hours in which they eventually suffered a “collective memory loss.” There are serious questions to be made about whether witnesses are being coached – the Scottish government refuses to say who has been hired to “prepare” the witnesses. SNP ministers spent £25,000 on formulating a Referendum Bill for Indyref2 since April last year while Nicola Sturgeon insisted that the Scottish government had “paused work” on pushing for independence as the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged communities across Scotland. This spending, along with the independence taskforce and an 11-point “roadmap to a referendum” suggest otherwise. 

As the educational inequality gap widens and poverty rises in Scotland, the SNP somehow finds the time and motivation to dramatically increase its funding for advertising campaigns in Scotland. Since 2017 the Scottish Government has more than tripled the amount it spends on advertising. Meanwhile, the Scottish Enterprise quango was found last month to have circulated a marketing guide to businesses and advocacy groups for its campaign “Scotland is Now/Scotland is Here.” Its central tenet is a short video that states “Europe — we’re leaving you, they say. But we won’t be leaving what we have together. We’ve come too far and we’re far too fond of you.” The marketing guide even includes recommended wording for posts on Facebook and Twitter, the former reading: “As the UK leaves the EU, Scotland is right here with you, Europe – ‘Because old friends, we don’t forget.’ ” A government spokesperson claims that the campaign merely advocates for Europeans to live, work, and study in Scotland. You can make up your minds on whether the quango’s campaign is impartial. (Here’s a clue, would the SNP run a campaign after secession from the UK saying we’re still British and won’t be leaving what we have together. We’ve come too far and we’re far too fond of you, Britain? Hmmn.) 

The SNP is not immune to the usual scandals surrounding ridiculous expenses claims. Former finance secretary Derek Mackay, for example, claimed more than £8,500 in expenses between February and December last year after his resignation for sending 270 messages to a 16-year-old. Without ever turning up in Parliament since – even virtually – he has benefitted to the tune of £90,000. 

But expenses scandals, shameful though they are, shouldn’t be the focus for critics of Scottish government waste. It is the large project failures which demonstrate the SNP’s lack of interest in and aptitude for effective administration of government that really matter. 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 Edinburgh University

Photo of MV Glen Sannox by Dave Souza - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=87554652 

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