Dawe admits Lib Dems may quit over tram line failure

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CITY leader Jenny Dawe today admitted her council administration could quit after being left to deliver a tram line costing £704 million that doesn’t reach the city centre.

Councillor Dawe said that a group meeting on Monday will determine the Liberal Democrats’ response to being defeated on its plans to borrow £231m in order to build the tram to St Andrew Square.

She revealed that the party is considering leaving the Labour and Conservative groups, which came together to agree to the tram line being taken only as far as Haymarket, to deal with the possible ramifications of the decision.

But it also emerged that a special meeting of the council could be called as early as next Thursday – and, if new information emerges on the cost implications of building to Haymarket, that may allow the Lib Dems to claim a “material change of circumstances” has occurred, meaning a new vote could be held on the issue.

Cllr Dawe said: “We have had a group meeting and we will have another on Monday. We will give it the weekend for people to reflect.

“Right now, we have a tram project we do not want. Whether we feel we want to deliver that, we will have to decide.

“The inclination of some in the group meeting was that Labour and the Tories have made their bed, let them lie in it; let them deliver the project and find £161m of savings.”

When asked how that could happen, she said: “That was the gut reaction, without working out how that could happen. The immediate reaction of [Labour transport spokeswoman] Lesley Hinds was ‘the council has made its decision, you go and deliver it’.

“Well, I thought ‘wait a minute, why don’t you?’.”

When asked if the Lib Dems could stand down from the administration, she said: “We need to decide the best way forward for Edinburgh.”

It is unclear what would happen if Cllr Dawe and her colleagues did decide to quit. If Labour and the Tories refused to accept the reins, the SNP could be left running the city.

After Thursday’s meeting, an emergency group meeting was called in the council leader’s office, with some angry views said to have been expressed – including a call to end the coalition partnership with the SNP because it failed to support its Lib Dem colleagues.

But Cllr Dawe backed the SNP, saying that it could not go against what it believed in.

A separate meeting was then held between senior councillors and officials, including chief executive Sue Bruce.

During the meeting, it was suggested that an immediate special meeting of the full council should be arranged for the middle of next week to discuss the implications of the decision, and concerns that some of the instructions of the Labour amendment are unclear – such as whether consultants Turner & Townsend should be appointed project managers.

Cllr Dawe admitted she had not given up hope of finding a way to reverse the decision.

She said: “The chief executive, by the decision, has been directed to, by August 31, come up with a plan to match the previous plan, but I would see no point in revisiting it if other councillors were just going to stick to party lines and not the interests of this city.”

Cllr Andrew Burns, leader of the Labour group, said a special meeting was “not required”.

Cllr Jeremy Balfour, leader of the Conservative group, added: “We asked officers to go away and come back with timescales and costs. Speculation beyond that is unhelpful.”

mblackley@edinburghnews.com

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