Project team is released from gagging order as fresh fears are raised of more cost hikes and overruns.
The team building the Scottish parliament has broken its silence after being publicly lambasted for massive cost overruns and delays.

The team's public defence comes as yet more doubts emerged over the latest cost estimates and completion date. One member of the team described the end-of-year completion date as "terrifically challenging". Construction manager Bovis Lend Lease said that "there cannot be any absolute guarantees" about the cost and that "there are still issues to be resolved that may impact" upon the projected completion date of November.

Building understands that the team still has to complete 52 of its 68 works packages within the six-month deadline.

The team faced savage attacks in the Scottish press since its announcement that the cost of the scheme had risen by another £37m. A confidentiality clause in its contract, which the parliament waived this week, meant that the team had been unable to respond.

In a statement to Building on Wednesday, Bovis said the building had "moved on considerably" from the original brief, that it had "proved enormously challenging to build", and that there had been "no complaints whatsoever" about its performance from the client.

Rob Smith, senior partner with project QS Davis Langdon & Everest, said: "We are working to the latest programme. It will be terrifically challenging but the whole team is committed to it."

Doubts over the final cost of the scheme were underlined by Liberal Democrat MSP Robert Brown, who is on the corporate body heading up the project. He told the parliament's finance committee on Wednesday that the £375m cost may increase. He said: "The £375m figure is in fact the cost consultant's best estimate of final cost – not money actually paid out to date."

Brown said that there was a 95% probability the scheme would be completed by the end of the year.

Building can reveal the extent of the variations that have dogged the team, which includes construction manager Bovis Lend Lease and architect RMJM, in the past year.

Between October 2002 and May 2003, the team faced 1825 architect's instructions, which led to 4600 variation instructions to trade contractors. This came despite a design freeze instigated in April. In May alone there were 545 architect's instructions. The parliament described the variations as "minor detailed issues".

DL&E's Smith said the team was demoralised and devastated by the attacks, which questioned their commitment to completing the scheme on time and on budget.

Smith said: "The team has been working so hard on the project but the way the papers have handled this has reflected terribly on us."

He refuted claims that the team had been milking fees. He said: "Three out of four parts of our fee have already been agreed. We are prepared to agree a lump sum on the last part."

The project team's plight was acknowledged by George Reid, the MSP in charge of the project.

In a letter to the parliament's finance committee, Reid wrote that politicians should be mindful of the burden that the intense scrutiny places on the project team.

Bovis responds

Because you’re on a construction management fee, you have no interest in controlling costs, do you?
That’s simply not true. We have exactly the same goals as the client.

Do you accept blame for the cost and time overruns?
The project trebled in size, was subject to design changes and was enormously challenging to build.

By accepting a fee-capping surely this is an admission of guilt?
There have been no complaints from the client as to Bovis’ performance on the contract.