Yes, council kept tram files. No, you can’t see

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COUNCIL chiefs who sparked outrage when they said they no longer held crucial documents on Edinburgh’s trams fiasco now say they do have the files – but are refusing to release them.

Officials at the council say the task of finding the documents requested and putting them together would cost too much.

But Labour group leader Andrew Burns said people would think the council was trying to hide something.

Labour had used Freedom of Information legislation to ask the council for details of the decision to remove Transport Scotland from the board of the project after the SNP came to power at Holyrood in 2007.

First, council officials refused the request, saying they no longer held the information. When Labour asked for the refusal to be reviewed, the council’s legal services department said the chief executive’s office and city development directorate only kept correspondence for a year, diaries for 2007 and 2008 were no longer held and trams firm TIE only kept correspondence for three years.

Labour accused the council of shredding vital information on the controversial project ahead of a public inquiry.

Then the council backtracked and said its response was “not entirely accurate”.

Now officials have said they do have the information, but they will not release it because of the costs involved.

In their latest letter, council officials told Labour: “Unfortunately we are unable to provide you with the information you have requested as the cost of locating, collating and providing you with the information is greater than the statutory maximum of £600. Whilst we are unable to calculate exactly what the cost of complying with your request would be, it would be well in excess of the £600 threshold.”

But they said they had found one 2007 letter relevant to the issue, from Transport Scotland to the then council chief executive Tom Aitchison, which they attached.

The latest letter goes on: “The chief executive’s office applies a policy of retaining documents, general correspondence and diaries for five years and not one year as stated in my colleague’s letter of 7 November. The diaries and records are therefore held by the council.

“The city development directorate office has since confirmed that general correspondence is reviewed on an annual basis and files are carefully weeded. Any information of continuing business value to the department is subsequently retained. There is no blanket policy to destroy records on annual basis.”

Councillor Burns said: “The SNP and Lib Dem politicians in charge of the council need to get a grip of this situation. Issuing formal notices claiming that papers have been destroyed, then claiming they actually do exist but refusing to release them, is no way to run a capital city. And is it any wonder that people think the council is trying to hide something?”

iswanson@edinburghnews.com