Gina Davidson: Tram inquiries raise some questions

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THE Edinburgh Tram Inquiry, unlike the very thing it is inquiring about, is trundling along on time.

Just four days before the tram line celebrates its first anniversary this Sunday, it was announced that August 19 will be the day of the first formal hearing when “core participants” will be announced.

There are thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of people desperate to hear where the fault for the whole tram line debacle lies.

But already, again like the tram project itself, the inquiry costs are mounting. The current estimate is around £3 million to get to the bottom of just why the whole thing took so long and went so badly off the rails.

Three million is a pittance compared with the £776m it cost to build the tram. But while there is probably never a good time to spend millions on an inquiry, the question that remains is will it be worth it?

Public inquiries seem to be the go-to mechanism of government –central or local – when dealing with matters deemed “controversial”. But in the rush to get something done what they are asked to investigate can be limiting and they can be hugely expensive.

And what do such investigations ever really uncover? What do they achieve apart from wheeling out a catalogue of obvious recommendations – obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense – and the old “lessons learned” soundbite? Do the recommendations – always “adopted in full” – ever change anything? Not if any of the inquiries into the too many tragic deaths of children at the hands of their parents are anything to go by.

Recently there have been inquiries into press regulation, hospital standards, child abuse, allegations of abuse against prisoners during war . . . the list is long and serious. Quite rightly all these things need to be investigated but calls for public inquiries are becoming more frequent and more trivial – just this week there were demands for one into the actions of Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael around the so-called “Frenchgate” leaked letter affair. Something to which he’s already admitted.

The odd thing about public inquiries is that, whether they are judge-led or conducted by a civil servant, there is no one-size-fits-all approach which is why some take too long, are too expensive and ultimately fail what they were intended to do, leaving all concerned unsatisfied.

Perhaps it’s time, if inquiries are to become more and more commonplace, that a more structured approach is put in place – or indeed the whole process is changed. For instance, in Edinburgh the approach to dealing with an investigation into the hugely sensitive and controversial matter of the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal was not to have a public inquiry. Rather former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini was hired to independently investigate what happened.

It took a year, but her dogged pursuit of the truth meant that her report, while appalling in what it discovered, was comprehensive and answered the questions of parents affected. It also changed the law on cremation.

The tram inquiry, under the auspices of Lord Andrew Hardie, is not being carried out in this way. It’s a full-blown public inquiry but it will be a pointless exercise if it does no more than tell us that developments were not monitored as acutely as they should have been, that people were appointed into positions for which they were unsuitable, that budgets were overrun. We already know all of this. What this inquiry needs to tell us is why and who was responsible and how – should there ever be an extension of the line to Granton – none of these things will happen again. Hopefully, given that Lord Hardie can compel people to give evidence, this will be forthcoming.

But without doubt public inquiries are a lottery. Indeed as Lady Justice Smith – who led the inquiry into the actions of Dr Harold Shipman – admitted when asked about their value: “Are they worth the time and money and resources? I would like to say yes, but I think it’s often a close-run thing.”

The tram inquiry cannot be on the wrong side of that answer.

Clinics are welcome

THE more access to sex education – and contraceptives – teenagers have, surely the better for them and society as a whole? Whether adults like it or not, young people are sexually active so let’s make them as disease-free as possible, and also much less likely to reproduce. The scheme to have so-called “condom clinics” in more Edinburgh high schools is enlightened and should be welcomed.

The invite’s in the post, Steve

STEVE Cardownie is not a man to be underestimated, or indeed under-represented at a hospitality event. For Steve Cardownie knows what Steve Cardownie does best and that is attending “dos” for people like Steve Cardownie.

The former leader of the SNP group of Edinburgh council – who was ousted by Cllr Sandy Howat when an apparent “job swap” with Cllr Gavin Barrie went awry, leaving Steve Cardownie with no position except that of “spending more time with his family” – is now to be the city’s Deputy Lord Provost.

Which means he’s back on everyone’s guest lists and all is right with the world.

Get Bill passed at the double

CAN I add my support to that of Cllr Gavin Corbett’s for the catchy Footway and Double Parking (Scotland) Bill which is making its, hopefully now unhindered, way through Holyrood.

It is a constant frustration of pedestrians, disabled or not, and those who work in emergency services to find their way blocked by cars parked on pavements.

It is thoughtless and rude and there is little excuse for it except laziness. Go and find a space somewhere else and walk.