Salmond denies code breach by Sturgeon in Borders Railway row

A ROW has broken out between a South of Scotland MSP and Alex Salmond over claims the First Minister’s deputy failed to disclose information about the Borders Railway project.

Jim Hume accused the Scottish Government of a lack of honesty after claiming Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code by not revealing during a Scottish Parliament debate when Network Rail would take control of the £300million scheme.

However, Mr Salmond has backed his cabinet member, and described Mr Hume’s view as “simply wrong”.

The dispute began on November 1 when, during General Questions at Holyrood, the Liberal Democrat MSP enquired when Network Rail would be the authorised undertaker.

Ms Sturgeon, replying as secretary for infrastructure, investment and cities, did not give a date, saying an agreement would be reached soon.

However, Mr Hume says the next day he was informed Transport Minister Keith Brown would be on ministerial engagement at the Scottish Mining Museum in Newtongrange on November 6 – which turned out to be the official signing ceremony of the project.

Mr Hume argues Ms Sturgeon broke two sections of the ministerial code relating to openness and ensuring the Scottish Parliament is the first place to hear important government announcements.

As First Minister, it is Mr Salmond who rules on whether the code has been breached, and he decided to side with his cabinet colleague.

Writing to Mr Hume, he said: “Your suggestion that the answers given were not full and accurate are simply wrong.

“When the Deputy First Minister responded to your main question, the necessary approvals were not in place to confirm that announcement would go ahead on November 6.

“Network Rail’s board did not give the final authority to contract with Transport Scotland (previously responsible for Borders Railway) until after 3pm on the afternoon of November 1.

“The signing of the legal documents took place on Monday, November 5 between officials from Transport Scotland, Network Rail, Scottish Borders, Midlothian and City of Edinburgh councils.

“David Simpson, Network Rail’s managing director for Scotland, sent out invitations to key stakeholders to attend the ceremonial signing event at Newtongrange Mining Museum on Tuesday, November 6, only after he had received confirmation of his main board’s approval.”

Mr Salmond’s letter also said that the Scottish Government still hoped the Borders Railway project would be delivered by 2014, despite Network Rail stating on its website that the expected date of completion was now summer 2015, the latest the 35-mile line can open under the contract.

The First Minister wrote: “Transport Scotland will be working closely with Network Rail and its contractor BAM to look at ways of achieving our clear target to have the railway in place by the end of 2014.”

Responding this week, Mr Hume said: “The people of the Borders and Midlothian have a right to know every last detail of the Borders Rail project – they’ve certainly been made to wait long enough. But just hours before Network Rail agreed to contract with Transport Scotland on the project, the Deputy First Minister declined to give me an indication of when an agreement would be in place.

“The people of Galashiels, Stow and Newtongrange deserve better after six years. With real concerns now existing over whether the project will be delivered on time and on budget, it might be a while before we get some honesty from the Scottish Government.”

Meanwhile, Network Rail have organised an additional Borders Railway drop-in session at Fountainhall Village Hall this Tuesday, from 4pm to 8pm.