Jenny Dawe says trams trouble may remain mystery

Former council leader Jenny Dawe says she has 'nothing to hide' from the inquiry into the tram project. Picture: Jane Barlow
Former council leader Jenny Dawe says she has 'nothing to hide' from the inquiry into the tram project. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE “full picture” of Edinburgh’s troubled tram project may never emerge from the public inquiry because many documents may have gone missing, an ex-
council leader has claimed.

Former councillor Jenny Dawe has cast doubt on claims the judge-led inquiry will have everything “in black and white” by revealing how key files will have been lost in the years following the collapse of tram delivery company Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE) in 2007.

And the former leader of Edinburgh Lib Dems – who lost her seat at the City Chambers amid public fury about the stalled tramworks – said she would attend the hearing announced this week by First Minister Alex Salmond because she had “nothing to hide”.

It comes days after a senior council source insisted the authority possessed “all the documentation and evidence of how key decisions were arrived at” which would be laid bare at a public inquiry expected to launch some time after the Scottish independence referendum. Transport Minister Keith Brown is expected to name the judge running the inquiry before the Holyrood’s summer recess.

Speaking for the first time since the inquiry was announced, Ms Dawe, 69, said she would be “surprised” if all the documents “that should be there are actually there”.

She said: “I was told some years ago that some records may have been destroyed, whether this was intentional or unintentional I don’t know, but it was to do with when TIE was broken up and moved out of their offices.

“As a result I’m not sure whether everything is there in black and white as the present council claim.

“I don’t think there was any full scale or malign destroying of evidence but in terms of over time and with a high turnover of staff as there was with TIE, things will have been lost.”

In 2012, the Scottish Information Commissioner ruled the council had broken the law when it turned down a request for tram documents, wrongly claiming they had been destroyed.

It came after the News revealed how a freedom of information request for tram files was knocked back amid claims from the Labour Party that the records had been shredded ahead of a public inquiry into the troubled transport project.

Council bosses were later forced to admit they still held the records – but refused to release the documents, claiming it would be too costly to trawl through the archives to find them. Today, the city claims all TIE’s records are now stored on a council database and a council spokesman said it would “co-operate fully with the inquiry and provide any material or information that the Scottish Government requires”.

Former political heavyweights such as Mrs Dawe and ex-transport convenor Gordon Mackenzie are likely to called to appear at the non-statutory hearing but there are no legal powers to compel them to attend or provide evidence.

Doubts have been expressed over whether some of the key figures in Edinburgh’s trams fiasco would turn up to give evidence at the public inquiry into what went wrong with the £776 million project.

Ex-TIE chief executive Richard Jeffery had already said he would appear, adding: “What I had to say I will say at an inquiry and not before.” Former TIE executive chairman Willie Gallagher and former chairman David MacKay are also among those likely to be called.

Asked what the inquiry might focus on, Ms Dawe said: “To my mind the entire inquiry hinges on the contracts. The cost and delays all route back to those contracts and you question what type of due diligence. I always got the feeling that the contractors were laughing at the holes in the contract. They had a far better understanding of it than TIE ever did.”

And the ex-council chief, whose career ran from 1997 to 2012, said she would accept an invitation to give evidence after seeing the “terms of the inquiry first”.

“I would hope that a representative sample of people are asked to attend,” she said.

“It’s important that an inquiry does take place. How useful it will be, though, I don’t know. Memories do fade and you wonder how much the key people from back then do remember.

“I would hope that the council officials who were involved at the time will attend, we were politicians who relied on those who were more skilled and experienced in understanding and checking contracts. I have kept my own records from that time and they are clear and accurate. I have no guilt or second thoughts on how I reacted to the information I was given and I am more than willing to defend my reasons.”