City chief defends trams skill claims

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THE councillor responsible for the Capital’s tram project today defended comments he made about not having the right skills to oversee the scheme.

THE councillor responsible for the Capital’s tram project today defended comments he made about not having the right skills to oversee the scheme.

Transport leader Gordon Mackenzie was widely criticised for saying in a BBC documentary that his social work background – together with the experience of other councillors on the board of tram firm TIE – had meant they lacked the “technical expertise” to deliver the project, with opponents saying his comments had damaged the council’s reputation.

But he today claimed that he had been misinterpreted and insisted that councillors on the TIE board were not out of their depth – but needed more assistance with operational matters from experts. He also said that the project management structure has now improved following the appointment of organisations and individuals that have direct experience of major transport projects, such as consultants Turner & Townsend and government agency Transport Scotland.

He said it was right that the role of councillors was now focused on “strategic” decisions rather than operational matters.

Cllr Mackenzie said: “I think the comments have been wrongly interpreted. I did not say what some of the headlines claimed and I did not believe that we were out of our depth.

“We as councillors contributed pretty well to the scrutiny but, in aggregate, I do not think the board had all the skills that would have helped us scrutinise the materials in front of us.

“Councillors have an important role to play in scrutiny and, if you are on the boards of companies, you should have suitable skills for things like corporate social responsibility. We should not confuse the skills of politicians with the skills of engineers, lawyers etc, because they are very specialised skills and you need the board, in aggregate, to have these skills.”

Cllr Mackenzie was today expected to face further questions on his comments in the City Chambers, where a written question from Cllr Lesley Hinds, transport spokeswoman for the Labour group on the council, was due to be discussed.

Cllr Hinds said: “I think he has damaged the reputation of the council and all councillors who sit on boards, either now or in the past.

“Of course you do not have the expertise – I sat on the board of the EICC for four years and I was there to scrutinise and ask questions and get the right information. He made it clear that, because he was a social worker, he felt he did not have the expertise and I thought that was staggering.”