THE Holyrood project suffered a management failure of ''gigantic proportions'', involving officials and professionals at all levels, the final stage of the Fraser inquiry was told yesterday.

It was also jinxed by flimsy cost estimates, a political drive that valued speed above price, and a widespread failure of leadership.

John Campbell, QC for the inquiry, said it had also led to a lively competition among those involved to avoid taking blame.

His closing submission, in which he suggested where Lord Fraser should focus his report, coincided with the latest cost figures for the parliament. Although the headline figure was unchanged this month at (pounds) 431m, MSPs said they feared there could be further rises after hearing almost (pounds) 14m had been switched out of reserves to fund building work.

Mr Campbell said: ''In my respectful submission, the Scottish Parliament building project exemplifies a failure of procurement management of gigantic proportions, and at almost every level of official and professional involvement.

''I would also suggest that hardly anyone involved with this project can honestly stand up and say that he did all he could to prevent what has happened.''

The political drive to choose a site and hire an architect before MSPs had been elected was a key factor in later events, he said, with warnings about proceeding too quickly being ignored. One result was the choice of EMBT/RMJM, a new joint venture company with just two issued shares, to build the project, and whose partners subsequently argued over fees.

The need for speed also led to the choice of construction management for Holyrood.

Although this technique allowed design and construction to go on side by side, it left the taxpayer with extra costs.

After hinting the choice of Enric Miralles was procedurally flawed and possibly a fix, Mr Campbell said European procurement rules had been broken and officials had downplayed costs, leading to MSPs receiving a misleading impression. Also, key officials had lacked a basic knowledge of the construction industry.

He said Lord Fraser might want to consider why Barbara Doig, the original project sponsor, and Sarah Davidson, the outgoing project director, were given their jobs.

Mrs Doig's appointment was not her failure ''but arguably a failure of those who put her there'' - a sideswipe at Sir Muir Russell, the former permanent secretary.

Laura Dunlop, QC for the Scottish Executive, later conceded the executive broke European rules when it recruited EMBT/RMJM but rejected suggestions there was anything unsound about the venture group's finances. She also defended Mrs Doig's appointment because, although not a construction professional, she was aided by experts who were.