Tram probe bill at £1m before any witnesses called

Edinburgh's trams still divide opinion. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Edinburgh's trams still divide opinion. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Almost £1 million of taxpayers’ money has already been spent on the inquiry into the shambolic Edinburgh trams project, it has emerged.

The public inquiry, which began last June, is costing an average of £90,000 a month – despite not yet calling a single witness to give evidence.

And last month the Evening News revealed the judge-led probe into the massive delays and spiralling costs that dogged the project could take as long as two years to complete, leaving the final price tag topping £3m if current spending is maintained.

Witnesses are unlikely to be called to give evidence to Lord Hardie before the autumn, meaning the final report is not expected until after the Scottish Parliament elections next May.

When the inquiry was announced by then-first minister Alex Salmond, Scottish Government officials insisted it would be concluded “quickly and efficiently”, a claim that was reiterated when the inquiry’s powers were upgraded so witnesses could be compelled to appear.

It is understood officials are being swamped by the sheer number of files and paperwork they need to wade through – with two million digital files and 200 boxes of paper documents collected since Lord Hardie was put in charge in June last year.

Councillor Joanna Mowat, the Conservatives’ transport spokeswoman at the council, said officials needed to be open and honest about what the money was being spent on.

She said: “It’s spectacular that something that has been set up to investigate quite how a project went so wrong has not managed to appear to start its actual investigating – and has spent £90,000 a month to mobilise.

“It may be that they are doing the paperwork, in which case I know that there was a spectacularly huge amount of documents. But there is a lack of transparency about what exactly is going on. We would have expected people to be getting interviewed by now, so if there is a delay, we need to know why that is. It’s public money, so they need to tell us what they are spending it on.”

But Jim Eadie, SNP MSP for Lothian, insisted it was impossible to know whether the money was well spent until the process was completed.

He said: “Public inquiries are not cheap. We can’t have it all ways. If the public want to get to the bottom of what happened and what went wrong, it’s going to cost money to do that.

“There has to be better 
communication about what has been spent and I think the public are entitled to have answers to that. However, that does not detract from the fact that this is a necessary process that needs to happen.”

Figures obtained by a Freedom of Information request show £898,652 of funding had been handed to the tram inquiry by Transport Scotland to March 31.

A spokeswoman for the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry said: “The inquiry is making good progress in line with its published order of events and is at the stage of gathering material and retrieving and reviewing documents. Each stage is dependent on the previous and some of the stages may run concurrently. Funding for this independent inquiry is coming from the Scottish Government.

“The Scottish ministers have been clear from the start that the inquiry should be efficient and cost-effective. All efforts will be made to ensure the inquiry delivers best value for the public purse.”

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com