Lafarge Forth Road Bridge snub described as ‘bad joke’

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A MAJOR contract for the construction of the new £1.5 billion Forth Road Bridge, which would help maintain more than 130 jobs at the Lafarge cement works in Dunbar, could be handed to a German firm instead.

Transport Scotland say that no decision has yet been made. But soundings last week suggested that the deal to supply cement for the new crossing was about to be handed to Hochtief - one of the largest construction firms in the world - under EU rules, even though Dunbar-based Lafarge, Scotland’s only cement manufacturer, has also bid for the contract.

East Lothian MSP Iain Gray said that if Lafarge did lose out, claims by SNP ministers that its capital investment was helping sustain the Scottish economy would be exposed as a “bad joke”.

Mr Gray said that over 150 of his constituents worked at Lafarge and many had suffered long periods of short-term working. He said that if the contract went to Hochtief, workers would practically be able to see the new Forth Bridge from the factory, but instead cement would be shipped in.

He added: “This is the biggest infrastructure project in our history, it dominates the whole capital programme, and it starts to look as if it is stimulating every economy except our own.”

The suggestion that Hochtief was favourite to win the cement contract circulated within industry and political circles last week.

One employee at the Dunbar cement factory said the prospect of the contract going overseas was a “disgrace”.

“We are all disgusted at the thought of the contract going outside the country in times when a boost to the economics of Scottish firms is badly needed,” the worker said. “It doesn’t matter whether it may be a German supplier that wins the contract, the mere fact that the Scottish economy will struggle to benefit from this in any way other than perhaps boarding the construction team (as I’m sure they will not be Scottish based either) is disgraceful.

“Whether this decision affects mine or my colleagues’ future employment is yet to be ascertained but I now assume that a conversation will take place that would not have, had the contract remained in Scotland.”

But Nigel Blair, works manager for Lafarge’s Dunbar site, said that as far as the company was aware, it could still be awarded the prestigious contract.

Mr Blair said: “This project is a significant one and being awarded the contract would be an enormous boost to the employees and the plant, which is still running at just over half its capacity due to the downturn in the construction industry. We believe that Transport Scotland has not yet made a decision, but remain confident that our credentials are strong and that all broader benefits will be considered in the decision.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said that suggestions about a future cement contract were “entirely speculation”, adding that the Scottish Government had been lobbying the EU and the UK government to allow economic impact to be taken into account in awarding such contracts.

The spokesman added: “Ministers would clearly wish to see Scottish firms benefit from any contracts available and have taken steps to ensure all subcontracts are clearly advertised under the Public Contracts Scotland website which allows the main contractors to identify any local contractors who can carry out other important parts of the work.”

The new bridge is expected to be built by 2016.