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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee 14 December 2016

Agenda: Forth Replacement Crossing (Project Team Update), Major Transport Infrastructure Projects (Update), Public Petitions


Contents


Forth Replacement Crossing (Project Team Update)

The Convener (Edward Mountain)

Good morning and welcome, everyone, to the 14th meeting in session 5 of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. I remind everyone present to switch off their phones. No apologies have been received.

Agenda item 1 is evidence from the Forth replacement crossing project team on progress and developments in relation to the new crossing. I welcome David Climie and Lawrence Shackman, and invite David Climie to make an opening statement.


David Climie (Transport Scotland)

Thank you very much. Good morning.

We are very pleased to be here to update the committee on progress that has been made since our previous appearance at the committee on 7 September and the committee’s site visit on 31 October.

I can confirm that the date for opening to traffic for the Queensferry crossing continues to be May 2017 and that the project outturn cost range remains at £1.325 billion to £1.35 billion.

The weather has continued to be challenging, but the Forth crossing bridge constructors—FCBC—consortium, which is the contractor, has generally been successful in mitigating that.

In the past 12 months, the site workforce has averaged 1,242, with a peak of more than 1,400 during the summer and the autumn. Following the committee’s visit to the site at the end of October, I am sure that committee members will have an appreciation of the size and scale of the works that are being undertaken and the skill and dedication that are required from the site workforce to complete this outstanding project.

I will focus specifically on progress on the principal contract.

On the south side, the road works are substantially complete. Final landscaping and planting works are currently in progress.

On the Queensferry crossing, 107 of 110 deck units have been lifted into place. One more deck unit is to be lifted in the next few days, and the final two are to be lifted in the new year. In October, the centre tower deck fan achieved the milestone of being the longest free-standing balanced cantilever structure in the world. Guinness World Records has verified and recognised that. However, the record existed for only about three weeks, as the closure units at either end were lifted and connected to form a continuous structure all the way from the north abutment to pier S2, leaving a gap of only 36m.

The installation of the concrete deck on the south approach viaduct is progressing northwards from the south abutment, and 36 out of the total of 42 concrete pours that are required have been completed. On the north side, all 12 concrete deck pours that are required have been completed and the travelling formwork that was used to construct them has been dismantled and removed. Installation of the large expansion joints at the south end of the bridge has just started.

On the north-side road works, the wind-shielding barrier has been installed on the west side of the Ferrytoll viaduct. That provides a good indication of how the finished Queensferry crossing will look. The new Ferrytoll junction is now in use, and traffic is passing under the new overbridges. Traffic on the A90 was recently transferred on to the new south-bound carriageway between the Admiralty and Ferrytoll junctions. Work on the reconfigured park-and-ride facility at Ferrytoll is nearing completion, and the new turning circle for buses is currently being completed.

With the completion of deck lifting in January, the focus will shift on to the deck-finishing activities, which include the installation of the crossing stay cables, erecting the wind-shielding and vehicle-restraint barriers, fitting motorway gantries at the towers, waterproofing the concrete deck and the road surfacing. In addition, the three tower cranes, which have been a landmark on the skyline for so long, will be dismantled, and the temporary trestles, platforms, cofferdam and caissons at each tower will be cut up and removed.

Those activities are the more visible ones to the public, but inside the towers, piers, abutment buildings and deck structures, work is progressing on the installation, testing and commissioning of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems as well as the extensive structural health monitoring system, which is very important to modern bridge structures.

Community relations continue to be extremely good, with the north and south community forums having been combined into a single entity for the November meeting and for the future. More than 68,000 people have now attended events relating to the FRC, nearly all of them being held in the contact and education centre. Among them, more than 19,000 pupils from schools all over Scotland have attended science, technology, engineering and maths-related activities.

The level of interest and excitement around the opening of the bridge is continuing to increase, and we are continuing to develop the plans for that, on which we expect to be able to make an announcement in the new year.


The Convener

Thank you very much. I am sure that the committee will want me to reiterate our thanks for the visit to the site, which we all found extremely informative. It is probably not until we get there and get on to the bridge that we realise the enormity of the project. I pass on our thanks to you.


Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

Thank you, Mr Climie, for your letter, which was sent to the committee on 20 September. I found it very helpful. I have been trying to drill down into the finance of the whole project. I wonder if you could follow me through and confirm these figures.

As you said in your letter, the budget at the moment is £1.35 billion. When the tendering process came out, it went up to a maximum of £1.6 billion.


David Climie

Correct.


Mike Rumbles

You said in your letter that there has therefore been a “reduction”—a saving—of £245 million. You said that a

“£245 million reduction in the budget has been delivered due to lower than expected inflation, robust risk management and strong project governance”.

The very next day, Keith Brown, the cabinet secretary, confirmed in an answer to a parliamentary question that I asked that he had actually allocated £529 million to inflation, with an estimate of inflation of an average of 5.3 per cent per year. The actual inflation over the five years that Keith Brown referred to is not 5.3 per cent but 1.9 per cent. In fact, £300 million, which in theory was allocated to inflation, has not needed to be spent. You are quite correct when you refer to £245 million, but there is actually a bigger figure, on average inflation, which should be closer to £300 million.

My point is this: although you may not have said this, I know that MSPs have said in the Parliament that the project is consistently coming in under budget. However, it has not come in under budget; in fact, if you take the actual inflation figure rather than the forecast figure, it looks as though it is coming in over budget. Do you have any comments on that?


David Climie

Yes, I have. I think you have a slight misinterpretation of the figures and the way in which they have developed.


Mike Rumbles

Okay. Put me right.


David Climie

I would be happy to clarify the position. The budget has gone through several phases. Initially, when the project was first talked about in 2007 and it was thought that the Forth road bridge was going to be closed completely, a number was put out that suggested that the crossing could cost £3.2 billion to £4.2 billion. Then the further analysis of the Forth road bridge was undertaken, as a result of which the Forth road bridge could continue to be used, based on a better prognosis for the cables. Therefore, the managed crossing strategy was developed, which meant that the Forth road bridge would continue to be used, and the width of the Queensferry crossing could therefore be reduced.

At that point, when the financial memorandum was introduced to Parliament—it was tied to the bill process—the number for the budget came down to £1.7 billion to £2.3 billion. The £529 million, which was quoted in the written answer to your question, relates to that £1.7 billion to £2.3 billion. In the financial memorandum from 2009, that number is clearly identified.

Throughout the project, the rates of inflation that have been used on the numbers have been consistent. In all the predictions, the lower-end inflation has always been 2 per cent per year; the median inflation has always been 5 per cent per year; and the high-end inflation has always been 8 per cent per year.

Subsequently, after the budget came down to £1.7 billion to £2.3 billion, we went through the procurement process, and we got the bids in at a significantly lower level than we expected them to come in at. That is the point at which the £1.45 billion to £1.6 billion budget was put in place. The £529 million came down accordingly, because that figure related to the £2 billion median of the £1.7 billion to £2.3 billion. Therefore, the actual number on inflation was somewhere around £200 million, so the £245 million that is now being quoted is inflation plus the other activities.


Mike Rumbles

Right. I do not want to confuse people with figures—I want to ensure that I have understood you correctly. You are saying that the £529 million was not allocated at the point when the contract was tendered.


David Climie

Correct.


Mike Rumbles

It was the previous figure.


David Climie

That was the previous set of figures.


Mike Rumbles

But even when we take the £1.6 billion tendered figure, which I am focusing on because I am looking at how much the process has cost since the tender was accepted, it appears that at least £200 million—if not more—of the £245 million reduction comes from inflation.

I cannot get my head round that issue. If it was a fixed-budget contract, how could it come in under budget? The only reason why some might say it is under budget would be if the inflation figure was used. A fixed-budget contract cannot come in under budget, so that is the only reason. Basically, that figure is the inflation reduction, is it not?


David Climie

No—it is partly the inflation reduction. Again, I make it clear that there is a difference between the element that is the fixed-price contract, which is the principal contract—


Mike Rumbles

Which is the £790 million.


David Climie

It is the £790 million—that is the fixed-price principal contract. The entire project budget, which is everything from the start of the project in 2007 through to the end of the defects liability period in 2022, is £1.35 billion. That covers everything that is associated with the project.


Mike Rumbles

I ask for the convener’s forbearance on this, because it is a really important issue that we need to get right if we are looking at the budget.

I request that you provide in writing to the convener, if you can, the following information, which would be very helpful. I would like to know—as I am sure the committee would—how much of the £245 million reduction is the result of a lower-than-average inflation level and how much is the result of other factors. Can you identify those other factors? I suspect that the vast majority—about 90-odd per cent—of the £245 million is inflation, but I would like to know the exact figure and what the other factors are. Once we get that information, we can judge the effectiveness of the contract in monetary terms.


David Climie

That information would be helpful to everybody, and I am more than happy to provide it.


The Convener

That would be helpful, not least to enable us to see the information on paper so we can look at it slowly. John Mason wants to comment on finance—or do you want to ask the next question?


John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

I want to ask the next question.


The Convener

Okay. If no one else wants to ask about finance, John Mason will move to the next question.


John Mason

I will first make one comment on finance. I just think that it is exciting that we started at £3 billion and we are now at wherever we are—under £2 billion, anyway. That is just fabulous.

David Climie mentioned that the weather had been challenging and I ask him to expand on that. We have had quite a lot of rain and wind, and at one point there were some fairly low temperatures. Have there been any real problems with the weather?


David Climie

As I said in my opening statement, the weather has continued to be challenging, as it always will be out on the Forth.

It is important to note that we are beginning to move into a new phase of the project. Over the past 12 months, we have focused very much on the deck lifting and everything that is associated with that. Therefore, there is an impact from wind in particular, as we have discussed previously and as you will have seen when you visited the site. Throughout that period, we have had a disadvantage, in that we must have discrete work fronts—we can lift only in a particular place at a particular time, and we cannot create a new work front.

Once the deck lifting is completed in the new year, that will open up the whole bridge structure to us, which means that the process will become more resource driven. We can waterproof and put wind shielding up in multiple areas of the bridge at one time—that does not have to be done in a specific sequence. In addition, a lot of the work is inside the deck itself and inside the towers and piers. Work such as waterproofing and deck surfacing is particularly sensitive to rain, as one cannot waterproof on a damp surface, and to low temperatures, because there is a minimum temperature at which asphalt can be put in place. There is therefore a change in the challenges that are coming up, but, overall, given the progress that we have made to date, we are generally where we wanted to be.

We still have two deck units to lift in the new year, both at the south end of the bridge. The weather downtime has been fairly significant over the period since the new programme was put in place, but we have continued to challenge FCBC and its designers to find alternative ways to do things and to mitigate the weather effects, and we have been particularly successful in that respect.

10:15  


John Mason

If it was very wet and cold every day from now until May—which I suppose might happen—would there be delays?


David Climie

Of course—I cannot say that there would not be. I hope that January and February will not be a mass of snow and ice, because that would obviously not be helpful. However, the May date is still realistic. There are weather constraints, and we are very aware of those. We will keep the committee advised as to how those develop over the next few months.


John Mason

What are the key things between now and May? Are they the things that you have mentioned—the waterproofing, the asphalt and all that kind of stuff?


David Climie

Yes. Those are the key things left to deal with.


The Convener

Stewart Stevenson wants to come in with a quick question.


Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

It is a brief supplementary question. Could the staff who are engaged in weather-dependent things on the bridge—asphalt laying, for example—work on other activities that are not so weather dependent, such as work inside the towers or the bridge?


David Climie

No, they could not. The activities that we are talking about, particularly road surfacing, are very specialist. We want to ensure that the surface is put down by qualified people who know exactly what they are doing. The last thing that we want is any problem with the road surfacing on the bridge. Waterproofing is similar—very specialist subcontractors do that.


The Convener

Richard Lyle has a question to follow up on that, I think.


Richard Lyle (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

Good morning, Mr Climie. I know that you have been heavily involved in building the bridge, which is an iconic structure that I am sure will become one of the wonders of the world. In your opening statement, you said that you will plan in the new year for how to celebrate the opening. Will you expand on that? We hope that the bridge will open in May, depending on the weather, but when will we celebrate the opening and who might open the bridge?


David Climie

It probably will not surprise you to know that we have had a huge amount of input from people relating to potential opening events. We have had input on what might be done, who might be involved and what has been done previously on similar projects. We are gathering all of that to put together an effective package that will satisfy as many people as possible. Obviously, there is huge public interest in the project. We are fully aware of that through the engagement that we have at our contact and education centre. Every time that I go out to do a talk, the first question that I am asked is, “When is the opening ceremony going to be and how can we come to it?” We are taking all that into account.

We are also looking at how the opening might be tied in with charitable fundraising, as it is an excellent opportunity to do that. We want to be as inclusive as possible in how we deal with it. Lawrence Shackman is leading the committee that we have formed to pull all that information together and make recommendations. As I mentioned, we expect to be able to make more detailed announcements on the matter in the new year.


Richard Lyle

I have a picture in my mind of fireworks displays and so on, although I am sure that you will not be putting any on the bridge—


The Convener

I might try to spare David Climie’s blushes, because I think he is telling us that something substantial is planned and, when there is an announcement, we will get to hear about it.


Richard Lyle

That is what I was leading to. At the end of the day, thousands of people will want to come and see it. I am sure that you will plan it on a day that is suitable for most people.


The Convener

Before Gail Ross comes in, I have a question that links back to John Mason’s points. Mr Climie, you suggested that, weather willing—I think that that was the description you used—everything will happen by May. Can you confirm that you are satisfied that you have enough contingency time in the project to make May a reasonable option if things do not go quite as planned as far as the weather is concerned?


David Climie

As I said, the programme is realistic and achievable, based on everything that we have experienced in the past and looking at the activities that need to be done in the future. We continue to engage with FCBC and its designers to ensure that, if things happen that have a greater impact than expected, we try to find workarounds. We are by no means sitting back and saying, “This is what it is going to be, and it will be what it will be.” There will be continued challenge on that. I continue to say that the May date is realistic, although there is always the weather risk attached to that.


The Convener

It would be helpful for Parliament to know whether key targets are missed prior to May. You will have thought about your exact timeframe and I suggest that you will be down to days rather than weeks. How will you make Parliament aware of missed deadlines as and when they occur? It would be unacceptable if we did not know about a missed deadline a week before the planned opening of the bridge.


David Climie

That is perfectly fair. As soon as anything happened that jeopardised that date, we would immediately inform the committee.


Gail Ross (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP)

I, too, thank you for letting us view the bridge. It was great to be part of that visit.

The last time you were here, I asked about your interaction with school kids, and about education and learning opportunities. Since then, you have had a world record. Even if it was only for a few weeks, it was still a record, which is a fantastic achievement.

In October, I visited Glasgow science centre, which has a lot of interactive exhibits and fun things for kids to do. You have mentioned your education centre. Are there any plans to make it permanent or to have something like the science centre? Kids are learning a lot about how the bridge has been built and how it works. Are there permanent ways that you could continue to provide that learning?


David Climie

The simple answer is yes—we are keen to do that. Our contact and education centre was originally put in place for the duration of the construction period. It is intended that it will be used for longer—at least a year beyond that—because we want to be able to tell the whole story of the project. It has been a developing story until now; from May onwards, we can tell the complete story.

We have contributed a lot of our material to a pop-up exhibition that is being put on around Fife. We engage a lot with the Institution of Civil Engineers and we have contributed information about the bridge and progress on it to a major exhibition that is currently on in London. Lawrence Shackman might want to say a bit more about that.


Lawrence Shackman (Transport Scotland)

I visited the exhibition in the Institution of Civil Engineers on Friday, so I can vouch that it exists and is serving a purpose. In fact, from what I was told, the new bridge is the most popular part of the exhibition.

As David Climie said, we are keen to keep the contact and education centre function going until at least 2018. We need to discuss what will happen to the building after that. My personal view is that it would be great to keep the centre going, not just to provide reflection for us all but to ensure that we encourage children into engineering.


Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

Good morning, gentlemen. Concerns have been raised that some contractors that are working on the bridge may not be meeting acceptable employment standards. There are concerns about things including undercutting of joiners’ and other workers’ pay, and failure to meet health and safety standards. More specifically, will you explain how seven workers who are suspected of immigration offences were found to be working on the project?


David Climie

Certainly. I am glad to have the opportunity to address those points. Obviously, we take very seriously any allegations regarding low pay, health and safety conditions or immigration concerns such as you have mentioned.

I will deal first with the immigration issue. FCBC, the contractor, was contacted by the Home Office, which said that it had allegations against a specific company, and that seven named individuals of that company could be working illegally. The company in question was a second-tier subcontractor to FCBC. The Home Office made it very clear that FCBC was not the subject of the investigation and was not at all involved in the investigation. However, the Home Office requested assistance from FCBC to interview the employees of the contractor. The interviews by Home Office officials and Police Scotland happened on Monday 21 November. As a result, the seven named individuals who were suspected were taken away and have, I believe, subsequently been charged. The matter is now with the Home Office for further investigation.

I should also mention that the obligation to check people’s eligibility for employment always rests with the immediate employer—that is where the legal responsibility lies. In this case, we are talking about a second-tier subcontractor to FCBC. As I mentioned earlier, the Home Office made no investigation into FCBC itself. FCBC checks all its directly employed employees to ensure that they are employed legally. The Home Office has mentioned that situations such as we are discussing are, unfortunately, not irregular occurrences, especially on construction sites. The Home Office gets a large number of tip-offs; it occasionally finds on investigation that there is truth in those tip-offs. It is true that there were seven illegal workers. They have been removed from the site, and the process is on-going.

The other allegations that have been made are being thoroughly investigated. On the health and safety criteria, everyone who comes to the site receives an induction on the site. In the United Kingdom construction industry, people have construction skills certification scheme cards. That scheme assesses the safety capability of individuals and is very much targeted at the particular trade that the individual works in. All contractors are required to have that card or an equivalent. Foreign contractors who do not have a CSCS card are required to have a signed statement from the sponsor or employer saying that they meet all the safety requirements. In parallel with that, FCBC has its own on-site training facility, where it provides a lot of safety training. More than 500 individuals have gone through the training, as part of the project. Obviously, individual supervisors on the project carefully check the capabilities of their employees and, if there is any question whatsoever about those capabilities, the employees are either given further training or removed from the site.

On low pay, allegations were made specifically about a Portuguese subcontractor that has 29 people working on the site. When the union wrote to FCBC with allegations, FCBC immediately contacted the company and the company supplied a letter confirming that it has paid people fully in accordance with the rates and with the rules and regulations. That information was sent back to the union in a letter on 1 December. The union subsequently wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work to ask him to investigate further. As a result of that, FCBC has taken payslips from some of the individuals who are involved in order to check what they are being paid. All the investigations have shown that the rates of pay are at or above the correct rates, and that no incorrect deductions are being made. FCBC decided to widen that process and selected another five subcontractors at random, wrote to them all and asked them to produce evidence. That evidence is still being gathered. However, to date, absolutely nothing has been found to back up the allegations regarding low pay.


Peter Chapman

Thank you for that full and clear answer.


The Convener

I think that John Finnie wants to drill down into this issue a wee bit more.


John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

You have given a comprehensive response, and you will be aware of the publicity that there has been about the issues, including the comments of the regional secretary of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians. I will not repeat those comments in full, but they refer to the benefit of having an on-site union convener. I would certainly concur with the view that a unionised workforce is a benefit to the employer, particularly with regard to health and safety. Can you comment on the lack of an on-site union convener and say what the implications of that might be?


David Climie

The main union on the site is UCATT. It has had an agreement with FCBC on the site since the commencement of the project. In September this year, the convener approached the FCBC project director to say that he was going to be promoted within the UCATT organisation but would continue to support the workforce fully on the site, which he felt was adequate in terms of representing the workforce. That arrangement continues. The former convener, who has been with us all the way through, is still regularly on the site, and FCBC has retained an office for him on the site. There is an on-going redundancy consultation because, obviously, some parts of the project are concluding. The former convener is fully engaged when UCATT members are involved in that process. I have seen him in the office four times in the past fortnight. Although there is not a recognised convener as such, the function is absolutely still being fulfilled on the site.


John Finnie

I presume that that role is diluted by the additional duties that the individual now has.

How do you characterise the relationship between Transport Scotland, the principal contractor and the trade unions?

10:30  


David Climie

Relations are good. I am not aware of any problematic issues on the site. Transport Scotland does not have a direct relationship with UCATT—the direct relationship on the site is between FCBC and UCATT. As I have said, the convener has an office in the same building as us. There is a very positive relationship.

UCATT has been fully engaged in all the processes on the site. For example, five UCATT members were sent for safety training and did a 10-day training course over 10 weeks. They are active members of the “Bridging the Forth safely” on-site safety committee. There is active and detailed engagement between UCATT and FCBC. That is helpful and we fully support it. That is why we were surprised, to a degree, by the statements that have been made.


John Finnie

The problem might be what people understand by different terms. Let me phrase the question another way. Would you prefer the previous situation, in which the individual was on site all the time and not splitting duties and being elsewhere, albeit that that might be outwith your control? Would that situation be better?


David Climie

I have no personal preference on the subject.


John Finnie

Okey-dokey.


Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I am pleased that you are investigating the allegations and carrying out spot checks on other contractors. What are the contractual obligations between Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government with regard to pay, safety issues and employment practices? How do you pass the obligations on to subcontractors and their subcontractors? What controls does the Scottish Government have over Transport Scotland and how do you implement them?


David Climie

As I said, we take the matter very seriously. If you will excuse me for giving a long answer, I can give you the specifics.

In the main contract between the Scottish ministers and FCBC—the Scottish ministers are the client and I represent the Scottish ministers—the specific requirement is as follows:

“The Contractor shall pay rates of wages, and observe conditions of labour, which are not lower than those established for the trade or industry where the work is carried out. If no established rates or conditions are applicable, the Contractor shall pay rates of wages and observe conditions which are not lower than the general level of wages and conditions observed locally by employers whose trade or industry is similar to that of the Contractor, and shall comply with the National Minimum Wage Act 1998.”

That is the specific requirement in respect of wages. FCBC has various subcontracts and the requirement flows down through those. The FCBC subcontracts specifically require the following:

“The Subcontractor shall pay rates of wages, and observe conditions of labour, which are not lower than those established for the trade or industry where the work is carried out. If no established rates or conditions are applicable, the Subcontractor shall pay rates of wages and observe conditions which are not lower than the general level of wages and conditions observed locally by employers whose trade or industry is similar to that of the Subcontractor.

The Subcontractor shall bear the social security contributions applicable to the Subcontract Works. Social security payments for the Subcontractor’s and his subcontractors’ (if any) employees shall be made by the Subcontractor and his subcontractors on time and the Subcontractor shall supply the Contractor with written evidence of such payments on a monthly basis, or when requested by the Contractor to do so.”

Those are the specific main contract and subcontract requirements with regard to the payment of wages.


Rhoda Grant

If a subcontractor was paying lower rates than those that are recognised by the industry, would that be a breach of contract that would mean that the subcontractor could be taken off the site?


David Climie

Absolutely—the subcontractor could be taken off the site.


The Convener

If Rhoda Grant is happy with that response, Jamie Greene will ask the next question.


Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I was going to ask a supplementary question, but Rhoda Grant has covered the subject.


The Convener

I thought that you intended to ask the next question.


Jamie Greene

Oh, yes. The question is about community engagement, which we talked a little bit about when you last visited the committee.

I echo other members’ comment that we thoroughly enjoyed the visit to the bridge. To see the scale of the work that is being done really brought it home to us and it was a fascinating experience. Thank you for your hospitality.

On community engagement, you mentioned that you have merged the north and south community forums. What will happen over the next few months on community engagement? Have any substantial issues been raised by members of the community since your last update that you might want to share with the committee? Once the bridge has opened, will there be ongoing community engagement?


Lawrence Shackman

I am happy to take that question.

The community forums have been going for a long time. We have got to know the local communities very well through the five years of construction and our communication with them before we started on site. It is pleasing that all the forums have finally joined together to make one forum, which met on 30 November.

At the forum meetings, we look back over the three months since the previous meeting and forward to the next three months in order to give communities a heads-up on the activities that are likely to happen. The forums have also visited the site, as the committee did, so that they have a good experience of what the bridge and connecting roads look like.

The issues that were raised at the last forum meeting were about the local roads and the final construction works around the Ferrymuir roundabout, which the forum would like to be completed as soon as possible. The contractor is making every effort to get the work completed by Christmas.

We have not had many complaints over the duration of the project—we have had an average of seven a month across the five-year period, which I am pleased to say is quite low. There were some issues about noise—occasional banging sounds when work has been going on on the south approach viaduct late at night, which is a very rare occurrence. Generally, the noise that has been complained of has turned out not to be attributable to the works. Complaints are fully investigated.

As we mentioned previously, the communities are interested to know what will happen with the opening. To try to engage with the communities as much as possible, we have produced a users’ guide, which we will publish in the new year. I can give the committee a copy of the draft, if that would be helpful. The guide summarises how all road users will be able to use the two bridges. We discussed that bridge users’ guide at some length and we consulted the community forum members as well as the statutory stakeholders to get their input to the document. The document is ready to go and will help to inform people—for example, learner drivers and motorcycle users—where they can and cannot go. It is hoped that people will find the guide informative. Those are the kinds of things on which we have been engaging with the communities.

Jamie Greene’s other question was whether we would keep engagement going after the opening. We intend to have a handover to the bridge-operating company, which is currently Amey—we will make sure that there is a smooth transition to the maintenance and operations stages of the project. We intend to keep the forums going well into 2017, as a minimum.


Jamie Greene

That is very helpful.

On paper, some of the changes to the road network at both ends look quite complex. My recollection of driving out from the site and trying to navigate my way back across to Edinburgh was that it was rather confusing. Will there be any dry runs of the process for different modes of transport in advance of the opening?


Lawrence Shackman

The road network connections should be self-explanatory and should not need a big education process. The guide will show clearly which roads users can and cannot go on, how to connect to the motorway as it will be, what the new junction numbers are and so on.

We had our most recent public transport working group meeting on Wednesday 7 December. All the bus operating companies came to that meeting, including Stagecoach, which sends its buses across the Forth. We have offered the operators a training session so that they can understand the nuances of the operation of the Forth road bridge and the Queensferry crossing. We have built in features to allow buses to be routed to use the Queensferry crossing’s hard shoulders should wind affect the use of buses on the Forth road bridge, which will not have wind shielding.


Richard Lyle

I have a small question. I know that buses will use the Forth road bridge. From time to time, unusually heavy loads must cross. Are they to be directed to the old bridge or the new bridge?


Lawrence Shackman

Such loads will use the new bridge, which is designed to meet fully the load requirements in modern design standards, unlike the Forth road bridge. Exceptionally, a very wide but not heavy load might go on to the Forth road bridge with special permissions. Generally, all such traffic will go on the new Queensferry crossing.


Richard Lyle

I take it that, if there were an unusually heavy load, the operator would have to contact the local police to be directed to the bridge that they should use?


Lawrence Shackman

Yes. An abnormally heavy or wide load has to be reported to the relevant authorities, which provide guidance on where it can and cannot go.


Mairi Evans (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP)

Your written update states that the findings from the A8 and A89 corridor study were passed to the Transport Scotland officials who are looking at the second strategic transport projects review. Could you share the results of that study with the committee and indicate when the measures in it will be implemented?


Lawrence Shackman

That was very briefly discussed at last week’s public transport working group meeting. I believe that the City of Edinburgh Council is to do further work to inform the outcomes of the study and will report back to Transport Scotland. The City of Edinburgh Council was not present at the meeting so, unfortunately, I cannot tell the committee much more. My colleagues who are looking at the wider STPR have indicated that implementation of the results of the corridor study is the sort of project that would be considered in that review. Aside from that, I cannot comment further.


Mairi Evans

So you cannot share any of the information that is in the corridor study report?


Lawrence Shackman

No. The initial report, which I saw in January 2016, considered the potential for bus lanes along the corridor and enhanced public transport to and through the Newbridge junction from the Gogar roundabout and the west side of the junction. There were a lot of considerations, and there is a need for further traffic modelling to realise the benefits and explore concerns.


The Convener

We may have to wait for Transport Scotland to give us that information, but it was appropriate to ask about it now.


Rhoda Grant

You told us previously that you were encouraging and developing use of trainees and apprentices. Could you give us an update on the numbers involved, or provide it in writing if you do not have figures?


David Climie

The numbers have not changed significantly in the three months since we last spoke to the committee. We currently have 99 people on Scottish vocational qualification training, and 558 have been trained on the project to date. Eight modern apprentices are progressing through their training. Currently, 14 people are undergoing professional training as chartered engineers and such professions, and the total number to date is 71. The annual average on the project is 32, compared to a contractual target of 21.

I will also touch on long-term unemployed people, which we regularly report on. There are currently 53 people employed with us who were unemployed for at least 25 weeks prior to joining the project. Throughout the duration of the project, 166 people in that category have been employed and the cumulative annual average is 50, compared to a minimum contractual requirement of 46.

10:45  


Rhoda Grant

It occurs to me that some people will still be in training when the project finishes. Obviously, you will no longer be responsible for that, but are there plans to allow them to complete their training and get the qualifications?


David Climie

Yes, there are. FCBC is particularly keen to do that, if possible. It is made up of four companies, only one of which—Morrison Construction—regularly works in Scotland. However, I know that the project director, Michael Martin, is keen to try to retain the people and ensure that they complete their apprenticeships even after the job is completed.


Rhoda Grant

That is good.

We have asked previously about blacklisting, and you gave assurances that you were keeping an eye out for it. Is that still the case? You said that you do spot checks to ensure that people are being paid the same. What are you doing to ensure that subcontractors and their subcontractors are not blacklisting?


David Climie

I can give the same assurance that I gave you three months ago and that I gave to previous committees. Every time I come to a committee, I speak to Michael Martin in advance and specifically ask him that question, and he categorically says that FCBC and its companies have never been involved in blacklisting—they do not blacklist and they will not blacklist. That is the assurance that I can give you. We certainly have not been made aware of any specific allegations. If we were, we would investigate those thoroughly.


Rhoda Grant

So nobody has ever come to you and said that they feel that they have been blacklisted.


David Climie

Absolutely not.


Rhoda Grant

If someone felt that that was the case, could they come to you and have that investigated?


David Climie

Yes—they could expect a fair investigation.


The Convener

We have no more questions. Before I summarise a few things, would you like to make us aware of anything in a closing statement from one or both of you?


David Climie

There is nothing that I wish to add. Members have covered the various issues that have arisen over the past three months thoroughly in their questioning.


The Convener

Okay. I thank you for attending.

Lawrence Shackman has offered us a draft user’s guide in the new year so that we can look at it before it goes out. David Climie has undertaken to write us a letter covering the financial aspects of the project that we can look at and scrutinise. He has also undertaken to give us a list of milestones or key events that we should be watching for so that we know that we are on target for the May opening. It would be appropriate for the committee to ask you to return in the early spring—the clerks will liaise with you on the date—to ensure that there are no surprises, even if they are weather related, before the opening in May.

That covers the outstanding points. I thank you again on behalf of the committee for attending and I wish you and your team on the bridge a happy Christmas. We look forward to seeing you in the spring.

I suspend the meeting briefly for a changeover of witnesses.

10:48 Meeting suspended.  10:53 On resuming—