Kezia Dugdale: Trams probe wait out of line

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How times change when it comes to the trams. Readers will long memories will remember John Swinney telling these fine pages just a few years ago that the trams couldn’t come quickly enough.

They were “welcome developments”, he told us, adding “but have been a long time in the coming and a long time in the talking. People are fed up with these promises always being round the corner. They just want to see some diggers constructing these things”. Oh the irony.

He once believed, like me, that the trams were a good thing. We’ve got the best bus service in the country and a growing city, but there just isn’t room for thousands of new homes in the west and south of the city. The trams were meant to be the answer, whisking people from the regenerated waterfront to the heart to the city, and then on to the rest of the world.

The ambition was not merely to connect the city to the airport – but Scotland to the world.

But if they were a long time coming then, what are they now? Nothing short of a national disgrace. Some warn that the total cost will rise to over £1 billion. They are an embarrassment to our capital city and there’s not a political party or government agency without its share of the blame.

That’s why I’ve been leading the charge for a full, immediate public inquiry into the fiasco. And I am delighted that Evening News readers are backing the call. We want answers to the questions that everyone is asking.

Why was the project allowed to run over time and budget? Who was in charge? Who is to blame? How can we stop this ever happening again?

One of the big questions John Swinney must explain is why he personally ordered his department’s transport experts to withdraw from the project just weeks after becoming the man in charge of Scotland’s finances.

Was he throwing his toys out the pram because he couldn’t stop the trams outright? And if he has been was getting monthly updates for five years showing bungle after bungle, blunder after blunder, why did he only order those experts back just a few weeks ago?

So far, those that ask the questions get sent packing. The Evening News has exposed shocking secrecy, from shredding documents to black marker pens scored through key documents. “Commercial confidentiality” is a code name for all that went wrong.

Wherever I go, the anger and frustration of the Edinburgh public has not dimmed. But it is answers we want – full and honest ones.

The tragedy is that we’ve been here before. After the Scottish Parliament building fiasco we seem to have failed to learn the lessons. Now the government is about to embark on the next great public infrastructure project – the new Forth bridge.

A full trams inquiry now will stop the bridge going south too. Could I be calling for another inquiry on the pages of this paper in ten years’ time, all the older but none the wiser? People deserve answers.

Striking back

I’M not on strike today, but I have given up a day’s wage to take part in the biggest day of action of the past 30 years.

Millions of public sector workers across the United Kingdom are taking to the streets to send a loud and clear message to their governments, that they did not cause the financial crisis and refuse to bear the brunt of it. Edinburgh’s teachers, nurses and care staff didn’t gamble with our money, take billions in bonuses, and dodge their taxes. They didn’t bring our economy to its knees, accept a bailout and carry on regardless. So why should they willingly accept the most comprehensive attack on their terms and conditions in a generation?

Tory ministers tirade at the cost of the strike to the public purse. Apparently the economy will lose out to the tune of half a billion pounds. A price we are happy as a nation to accept to celebrate a royal wedding, but not a price worth paying to recognise the contribution our public servants make to the fabric of society.

Why should those that teach our young and care for our vulnerable pay the price of a crash they did not cause?

Food for thought

THEY’VE moved the milk in my local supermarket to make way for brandy butter, cream and mince pies.

But as most of us snuggle down to watch It’s a Wonderful Life for the umpteenth time, we should all spare a thought for all those vulnerable people sleeping rough in our city tonight.

The unsung heroes are undoubtedly the Bethany volunteers at night shelters, giving up a night’s warmth to feed and provide a sliver of comfort for the most vulnerable.

Last week the Evening News reported on the council’s plans to scrap breakfasts at accommodation it funds to provide shelter for the homeless.

I wonder if the council has bothered to consult the charities and voluntary groups who will once again pick up the work with little reward or recognition.

Scrooge himself might deny you a 20p breakfast, but he wouldn’t then swap a bag of pennies for a stained glass window.