Inquiry hears council ‘slow to make decisions’ on trams

Matthew Crosse gave evidence to the inquiry yesterday.
Matthew Crosse gave evidence to the inquiry yesterday.
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Fears over the potential impact of the Capital’s tram network meant the council was “cautious” and “slow to make decisions”, the Edinburgh tram inquiry has heard.

The inquiry into the botched works yesterday heard from Matthew Crosse, who was engaged by tram firm TIE to direct the project from January 2007 to March 2008.

Mr Crosse – who was drafted in to lead the procurement process – was giving evidence as the inquiry, chaired by Lord Hardie, entered its seventh week of public hearings.

The inquiry heard Mr Crosse felt the council could have made quicker decisions, naming the design approval process as a particular example.

He said his sense at the time was that they were not “100 per cent” behind the project and that this consequently had a knock-on effect on the approach taken by officers.

“We relied on CEC not just as our shareholder but as sponsor and owner,” he explained.

“A sponsor needs to be 100 per cent backing its project management company and I didn’t sense that was the case.

“The council were nervous about the impact it was going to have on the great city of Edinburgh and therefore very cautious, a bit risk averse and slow to make decisions.”

Asked whether he felt political opposition to the project had an impact, Mr Crosse said it did not affect the day-to-day process because officers were committed to the works.

But he added: “The impact it had is that they were more cautious, unsurprisingly so.

“If there’s any reluctance to take bold decisions, particularly ones that cost a lot of money, there can be a tendency to sit on your hands and wait and think and talk to people.

“If you are constructing a tramway you can’t afford to do that. You have to be fleet-footed, nimble and make quick decisions and keep the project moving always and that was my approach when I was leading the project.”

Mr Crosse added “speedier decisions” could also have possibly helped avoid delays and disputes between TIE, the council and contractors BBS.

In his written evidence, he said he felt the project’s procurement model devised by his predecessor Ian Kendall was an “idealised approach”.

Questioned by inquiry counsel Jonathan Lake QC, Mr Crosse said this was because it anticipated design works being 100 per cent complete prior to contract award.

He said: “When I talk about the word ‘100 per cent complete’, it’s an idealised concept, and I think one of the problems is using it in the business case and in papers possibly led people to expect, possibly out of ignorance, that it would be a pile of drawings and specifications tied up in a bow, perfect. You don’t need to do any more. It was never going to be that.”

Mr Crosse told the inquiry the procurement model made “perfect timing” unachievable. However, as the model was already well established he said they could not change it and simply “had to make it work”.

He said his preferred model was that of PFI, with the design and construction risk packaged together and one entity responsible for both. Mr Crosse said this should include utilities diversions.

He added installing trams could sometimes present more challenges than larger construction projects such as Crossrail or even HS2.

“These are not straightforward projects,” he said.

“It’s not easy, and in some ways we should have never taken them out.”