Bid changes spark call to halt rail plans

A FORMER Scottish Parliament politician has called for the Borders Railway project to be brought to a halt now only one bidder is left for the £300m contract, writes Kenny Paterson.

Carillion Construction’s decision to pull out of the process has resulted in the remaining firms in the IMCD consortium withdrawing their proposal.

It leaves BAM UK as the sole bidder, following a similar retirement of the New Borders Railway consortium in November last year after American firm Fluor dropped out.

And former Scottish Conservative finance spokesman Brian Monteith, now policy director of ThinkScotland, claims the scheme should be ditched altogether.

Mr Monteith said: “The withdrawal of a second of only three contractors bidding for the project last week presents the SNP Government with an opportunity to put the scheme into abeyance and bring forward legislation to repeal its statutory obligations.

“Until then the Borders railway must be seen as nothing more than romantic self-indulgence by politicians spending other people’s money while they drive their sports cars at taxpayers’ expense.”

He added: “When I ask my many friends and relatives in Galashiels what they think, they reply that they have no interest in the railway and are unlikely to use it.

“For most Borderers it is not a priority and if they are asked to subsidise it through an increase in council tax it will become a grievance not to be forgotten.

“The SNP has an opportunity to restore economic reality in the Borders, will it have the nerve?”

Instead, First Minister Alex Salmond made assurances that his government were committed to delivering the restoration of line in 2014, with further preparatory work beginning last week at Low Buckholmside in Galashiels.

Prompted by Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame, Mr Salmond told the Holyrood chamber: “Changes to groupings and consortia during procurement are not uncommon especially with large-scale projects.

“The Borders Railway will go ahead and I hope the constituency member (Ms Grahame) takes comfort from ... the M74 project which showed a single bidder for that completion contract demonstrating the ability to deliver a bid, not just on time, but under budget.”

Scottish Borders Council leader David Parker – who previously described a £100m European loan made to the project in March as “extremely attractive” to private sector consortia – welcomed Mr Salmond’s statement.

And Ms Grahame added: “There are those who do not want this project to succeed, but now we can prove them wrong.”

But two other Borders MSPs were less optimistic.

Jim Hume, the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, claimed the IMCD consortium had pulled out because of “governance issues”.

He said: “It demonstrates the SNP’s reckless approach to the Borders Railway and ultimately, the buck stops with the Transport Minister (Keith Brown).

“He must explain to the people of the Borders why this project now faces grave uncertainty and is effectively being kicked into the long grass.”

And Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont claimed: “This is clearly very worrying news and could lead to the cost of this project increasing yet again.

“Ultimately this extra cost will fall to the taxpayer.

“Many local residents have expressed concerns to me about the viability of this project and fear that it is taking resources away from other public transport, such as investment in roads and bus services.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said the agency would now consider its options.

He told us: “We still await formal confirmation, however, through discussions with IMCD, it is clear they now intend to pull out of bidding as a consortium.

“Our requirements have always been clear and we carried out extensive consultation with the industry before embarking on the procurement process.

“If IMCD do confirm their intentions to pull out, we will have one bidder remaining. We have successfully delivered single tender projects before – the M74 which is due to open later this month ahead of time and under budget clearly demonstrates our ability to deliver.”