THE Scottish Government was today accused of “breathtaking” secrecy over the trams project after Transport Scotland responded to a Freedom of Information request with 17 pages of documents almost completely blacked out. Officials took a thick marker pen to page after page of the information, leaving just the odd paragraph intact.
Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said the blackout was “unacceptable”.
She said: “This level of secrecy is breathtaking. We need to know why ministers ordered Transport Scotland experts off the project way back in 2007.
“They were the ones able to advise on potential pitfalls, they should have been at the table, but somebody ordered them off.
“These papers show who it was – but we are not allowed to know.
“We need total honesty and openness on the trams. People cannot hide behind a marker pen and those responsible for mistakes must be prepared to take full responsibility.”
The Evening News revealed earlier this month that Edinburgh City Council and its trams firm TIE responded to a similar FoI request by first claiming they no longer held the information requested, then admitting they did have the documents but would not hand them over, claiming it would cost too much to do so.
Transport Scotland said the redacted information related to the formulation of government policy.
A letter explained: “Officials and ministers must be able to work in an environment where they are able to discuss the making of policy without the threat of the release of those deliberations. We consider the interest of the public is better served by withholding the information.”
But Ms Dugdale said: “People in Edinburgh are furious by the way the trams have been handled by the council and the government. The public has a right to know. A news blackout like this is unacceptable.”
She said the public inquiry which she has called for – and which ministers have agreed to in principle – should now have the power to compel witnesses to attend and produce paperwork.
Lesley Hinds, Labour’s transport spokeswoman on the city council, said: “There are real concerns that even under Freedom of Information law so much information is scored out. We need a rigorous, full inquiry to make sure they can get to the truth.
“You’ve got to ask what the Scottish Government have got to hide here.
“It must be pretty embarrassing stuff to go to this effort. Clearly something has gone catastrophically wrong with this project and the public want answers.”
Gordon Henderson, development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, said the lack of information only added to the need for a full public inquiry.
“We have always supported the case for a public inquiry, and this certainly adds fuel to that argument, as it seems it will be the only way to find out what is behind the black ink.”
Labour said it planned to appeal to the Information Commissioner for the release of the full documents.
What the remains of the documents say . .
Transport Scotland – July 6, 2007:
Last week’s decision of parliament that ministers accept the wishes of Parliament to support the Edinburgh tram project to the limit of the previous administration’s funding limit. You subsequently set this at “£490m” and no more, although there there were other references to “£500m”, essentially emanating from the Auditor General’s report. You also took the opportunity to confirm that the scheme was the City of Edinburgh’s - not the executive’s - in the post-debate press conference.
Transport Scotland – July 6, 2007:
To achieve . . . clarity of roles and ensure that situations could not arise subsequently in the governance of the project which might generate further calls on central funding, I propose that Transport Scotland’s future engagement should be on the basis of revised grant conditions and once these conditions are in place Transport Scotland staff should withdraw from active participation in the governance of this project.
On behalf of Finance Secretary – July 11, 2007:
Mr Swinney agrees with the approach outlined in Option 3 (annex C of the minute) as the cap on Trams and he also agrees that Transport scotland should “scale back” its direct involvement with this project.