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PARLIAMENT ACCOUNTS: How Scotland’s judiciary & courts blew £58 million of taxpayers cash on ‘improvements’ to the Court of Session & Parliament House

02 Nov

‘Sundries’ befitting courts & judges: £2.78m. SCOTLAND’S top judges and their attendants at the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) don’t do detail when it comes to accounting for a £58 million raid on taxpayers cash – to fund ‘improvements’ to Parliament House – seat of the Court of Session.

According to documents released by the SCTS in response to a Freedom of Information request, the staggering £57,517,062.82 splurge on the well known, if rotting, bleak and life ending Parliament House gives little detail to public eyes on exactly what work took place.

In one accounts category, a grand total of £2,780,612.72 of public cash falls under the heading of “Sundries under £100K” – reminiscent of an entry from the ledger of Al Capone’s not so fabled book keeper in the days of  “The Untouchables”.

And, ironically, the City of Edinburgh Council – who used to own the building before Scottish Ministers took the titles for themselves – were paid the sum of £2,436,439.45 as part of the works plan – small compensation for the loss of a building right in the centre of Edinburgh, valued potentially as a site in the hundreds of millions of pounds.

The ‘full’ figures released in documents provided by the SCTS in terms of where the money went reveal the following: Aedas ARCHITECTS £3,014,605.06, Amec Initial building contractor £101,669.52, Archibald McKellar Ltd furniture £259,024.15, City of Edinburgh Council Costs for decant to 1a during works  £2,436,439.45, Currie and Brown Project managers £3,292,438.75, Davis Langdon Cost consultants £554,067.40, Dinardo Partnership Services consultant  £112,672.00, GHI Fit out contractor £858,338.19, Guardian  Storage and removals £269,646.09, Hands of Wycombe  furniture £377,036.41, Heriot Video AV AV court kit £219,729.81, Interserve  Main contractor £42,030,146.95, Thomas Johnstone Limited Fit out contractor £1,021,776.27, W Stewart Client advisor £188,860.05, Sundries under £100k Miscellaneous £2,780,612.72, TOTAL £57,517,062.82

In truth, and to those who have passed through the unfriendly halls of this intimidating structure – which also serves as the command post of Scotland’s Lord President & Lord Justice General – currently Lord Carloway (Colin Sutherland), Parliament House differs little from the mid 1990’s.

Just how was this multi million pound judicial gorge on the public purse explained to the public and Scottish Parliament? Watch the following:

SCTS Chief Eric McQueen to MSPs – We spent £58 million of public cash on Parliament House

During questions from Justice Committee MSPs, SCS Chief Executive Eric McQueen gave evidence on the massive £60 million taxpayer funded spend on Parliament House.

The Court Service Chief told MSPs: “We are just coming to the end of the Parliament house contract; in total, the budget for it was £65 million and I think that we expect the final spend to be in the low £60 millions. The project has been delivered on budget, on time and on quality. How it has been delivered is a tribute to the Scottish Court Service.

McQueen continued: “I will give a potted history of the Parliament house situation. About 10 years ago, a scheme was in place that was going to run to way over £120 million. That was brought to a stop to allow us to reassess things and to consider the best strategy. At the same time, we looked at a business case for moving away from Parliament house altogether and having a development on a greenfield or brownfield site on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The major problem with Parliament house is that it is a grade A listed building and is a site of special historical interest. It should be a landmark building for the whole of Scotland.”

In an intervention, the Convener of the Justice Committee – Christine Grahame MSP said: “I am glad that you did not move to a greenfield site. It would have been a bit like going to B&Q. I do not mean to malign B&Q, but I like the old Parliament house building.”

Eric McQueen replied : “Had the decision been taken to move out of Parliament house, that asset would have been left with the Scottish Government. The infrastructure and the services were shot, and there was no fire certificate in place for the building. It would have cost as much to move out as to redevelop the building. From the point of view of the benefit to the nation and to the Scottish Government’s purse, the investment of the £65 million in Parliament house over that five or six year period was quite a sensible business case decision.”

Sitting beside Eric McQueen was Lord President Brian Gill, who did not at any stage of the meeting volunteer information to the Justice Committee in relation to the titles arrangements of Parliament House, despite the multi million pound taxpayer funded refurbishment.

Last year Diary of Injustice reported on the City of Edinburgh Council’s efforts to recover the titles to Parliament House after land reform campaigner Andy Wightman – now an MSP – revealed land titles to the buildings of Scotland’s top courts were ‘gifted’ by Scottish Ministers to the Faculty of Advocates.

A disclosure of eighty eight pages of documents released to DOI under Freedom of Information legislation – revealed at the time the Scottish Government had no plans to act over their handing over of the Parliament Hall land titles to the Faculty of Advocates.

Documents released by the Scottish Government and published by DOI also revealed the former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates – James Wolffe QC (now Lord Advocate) – refused to give any expectation of success on attempts by Edinburgh Council to recover public ownership of titles to Parliament House and the Laigh Hall.

In a separate 47 page Freedom of Information document release by Registers of Scotland (RoS)– the body charged with registering land ownership in Scotland – several documents highlight Scottish Government civil servants scrambling to protect Ministers from questions over the titles loss in the Scottish Parliament while vested legal interests are of a clear persuasion titles should be handed over to the Faculty of Advocates. Attempts by Edinburgh Council to recover the Parliament Hall titles ended in a failed legal action, reported here: WOLFFE HALL: Papers reveal Council’s legal action ‘abandoned’, £320K Faculty refurbishment of Laigh Hall.

Previous reports on the loss of public ownership of Scotland’s top court – Parliament House can be found here: Parliament House – The lost titles to the City of Edinburgh

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