Even if you don't pay too much attention to the hacks, the public mood is one of anger and consternation. Interestingly, however, the blame for the calamity is shifting away from the project team. Last Thursday, presiding officer George Reid announced that Bovis & Co had acquiesced to his demand that they convert their percentage fees to a "once and for all" lump sum. A couple of months ago, that would have been interpreted as an admission of guilt; now it barely merits a mention in the Scottish press. Reid himself acknowledged the "hard work of everyone involved" in reaching a settlement, an uncommonly emollient phrase. The fee capping, though, is unnecessary and unfair. It will save only £4.6m – a paltry sum in the context of a £400m project – and will hardly inspire the team to do their best work in the final months. Even on successful construction management jobs, fees rarely exceed 2%, including overheads, so the notion that the project team are (as they were dubbed) "Bisto Boys" taking a free ride on the Parly gravy train is fanciful in the extreme.
It will be left to Lord Fraser's inquiry to distribute blame for the cost hikes and delays. The project team is unlikely to escape censure, even though no specific charges have yet been levelled at its members. Also culpable is dumb luck: who could have foreseen Enric Miralles' death? Or the events of 9/11, which prompted the installation of blastproof windows (and added 10% to the cost)? Much of the blame must lie with the pusillanimous client and its political masters. It was they who chose a signature architect and the flexible CM method, and then promptly lost control of the job – just like their counterparts in charge of Portcullis House in London.
Lord Steel, Reid's predecessor as presiding officer, has given us a foretaste of the political machinations to come. He is deflecting the blame towards "anonymous officials". He says the first, £40m estimate was for a "standard supermarket style" building (in which case, why select a superstar like Miralles?), and that the original design was too small for all the parliamentary committees and researchers (in which case, what was in the client's brief?). Finally, he recounts the tale of how the cost of refurbishing Queensberry House doubled amid political acrimony and muddleheaded management: a microcosm, surely, of the whole project. At the heart of Fraser's inquiry will be the question of whether the politicians, from the late Donald Dewar onwards, appreciated the true expense – and ruthless leadership – needed to deliver such a stunning 200 year landmark? In its own small way, the Fraser inquiry may be just as intriguing as the one conducted by his fellow peer Lord Hutton.