Inquiry into trams fiasco ‘the sooner the better’

Cllr Gordon McKenzie
Cllr Gordon McKenzie
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pressure is mounting to speed up the promised inquiry into the trams fiasco following the harshest criticism yet from the Scottish Government.

Finance Secretary John Swinney – who last month played a key role in pulling the troubled project back from the financial abyss – claimed ministers were repeatedly told “rubbish” and misled over the trams.

Sources on all sides have indicated they would welcome an immediate inquiry – including the city council and TIE, the arms-length company which has been heavily criticised for the scheme running behind schedule and over budget.

Mr Swinney said information provided by TIE had proved to be “total rubbish” and the body had faced a “day of reckoning”.

The project has effectively now been taken out of TIE’s hands and carved up between Edinburgh council, ministers and Transport Scotland.

The Finance Secretary said: “I was at the receiving end of information passed to me by the city council, in good faith I would have to say, principally from TIE. And I think it was absolute rubbish.”

He added: “I think they fundamentally misled the city council, and as a consequence created enormous difficulties for the project.”

The council’s transport spokesman Gordon Mackenzie said he was “not surprised” by Mr Swinney’s comments.

Councillor Mackenzie said: “As soon as the inquiry starts giving us answers the better. I think all of us are to an extent dismayed by the way things have gone. You look back and question ‘could we have done anything differently?’. This is part of what the inquiry needs to look at.”

Alex Salmond has already revealed plans for a public inquiry, with no timescale. In a letter to him after the project was saved by the city taking on massive loans, council leader Jenny Dawe said she was ready for an immediate inquiry.

Yesterday she said: “I acknowledged the lengthy and difficult nature of the tram project and welcomed a public inquiry in order that the full circumstances surrounding it can be openly and properly examined. This council is determined that the steps that it has taken to get the project completed are subject to sustained and proper consideration, as indeed should the position and arrangements that it inherited.”

There now appear to be no serious impediments to an inquiry starting while work continues on the trams – as happened with Lord Fraser’s investigation into Holyrood.

Meanwhile, a Glasgow University professor of policy will tell an Edinburgh audience tonight that a basic mistake was made when the wrong tram line was chosen. Iain Docherty says the best line would have linked the city centre with Edinburgh University and Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

vraimes@edinburghnews.com