The amount of money being spent purely on interest payments related to the Capital’s tram project is staggering.
You don’t have to be £7 million Lottery winner Willie Sibbald to appreciate that the sums involved are huge.
Critics of the project will instantly tell you all the other things that this money could have been better spent on – with repairing our crumbling schools likely to be top of many people’s lists – and that is perfectly legitimate. Major infrastructure projects – whether it is the trams, the new Forth Crossing, or the building of a concert arena like the Hydro – always cost a lot of money and are inevitably open to such criticism.
The level of interest payments on the trams is not news, of course, to those involved in the project. They have known for a long time the amounts that were going to have to be repaid. The sums involved have never been made public before, however, and will give serious pause for thought.
What they do is highlight in a dramatic fashion just how much we all have invested in the future success of the trams. If the service thrives and meets its targets, then it can start to pay off the loan and bring down the interest payments. Failing to do that, however, will leave the city – and in particular Lothian Buses – with a financial millstone round its neck for years to come.
This is a critical time for the service. Everyone knows that the single, truncated line that we have at the moment is of limited value to the Capital. Only a broader network can deliver the kind of transport benefits and financial returns needed to make it a real asset to Edinburgh, but extending the line clearly involves more cost.
Before we can contemplate that step – which is likely to include even more borrowing – we need to know that the finances of the existing line stack up properly.
We have to hope that the early promising signs continue. We all have so much invested in the success of this project.