Former Edinburgh tram boss ‘pockled’ data but was not dishonest

An Edinburgh tram. Picture: Ian Georgeson
An Edinburgh tram. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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An e-mail sent by a former tram official in which he described having “pockled” a spreadsheet of figures was not intended as a “dishonest or misleading action”, the inquiry into the troubled project has heard.

Former tram project director Steven Bell was quizzed about the term – used by fellow TIE official Mark Hamill – as he yesterday returned to give evidence for a second day.

The inquiry, chaired by Lord Hardie, previously heard Mr Hamill had used the word in an e-mail to TIE’s then finance director, Stewart McGarrity, to explain how he made a risk reduction of £1.3 million.

In the e-mail, dated May 27, 2007, Mr Hamill, who was risk manager at the time, wrote: “I have basically ‘pockled’ the spreadsheet and hard entered some values.

“This solves the problem and helps us get the final result past CEC as I doubt they will notice what I have done.

“I will revert to normal practice for future QRAs. However, in this instance I think this is the best way to do it in order to avoid unnecessary scrutiny from our ‘colleagues’ at CEC.” Inquiry counsel Euan Mackenzie QC asked Mr Bell if the term essentially meant “cheating”, saying: “That is exactly what was happening here wasn’t it?

“A figure was being manually inserted in the QRA [quantitative risk analysis] spreadsheet to give the appearance to the council that that figure was included in the programme, the figures produced by the computer software?”

However, Mr Bell responded: “I don’t think that was the intention at all.

“It was to confirm that the entire risk register matched back to the final control budget based on the summaries that we had previously agreed.”

However, Mr Mackenzie went on: “My suggestion in short, Mr Bell, is that what is being done here is dishonest, because it is making a manual entry to what should be a computer-derived model and sum, and is then presenting or passing off that manual entry as having been produced by the computer model.”

Mr Bell replied: “I certainly don’t believe it was intended to be a dishonest or misleading action. I understand the comment that you make around the transparency of that. I think it was very clear to the parties who reviewed that that the intent was clearly to make that adjustment identified against delay so that was traceable, not to mislead anybody in relation to QRA.”

Under examination from Douglas Fairley, representing former employees of TIE, he said the approach was “absolutely not” subterfuge and that TIE worked closely with the council’s finance team.

Mr Bell was also asked about works on Princes Street in 2009, which took several months to complete and had to be re-done after cracks opened up on the road.

“We’ve read that the works were undertaken during a period of very heavy rain,” said Mr Mackenzie. “Was that a contributory factor?”

He responded: “The works were undertaken over a significant six or seven-month period.

“There was inclement weather on some occasions, but Infraco suggested that was entirely because of the rain and nothing to do with any workmanship or specification issues. TIE didn’t agree with that.”

The inquiry, now in its eighth week of public hearings, also heard deputy project director Susan Clark, who worked on the tram scheme from August 2006 to October 2011.

She was asked about an e-mail sent by Trudi Craggs, a lawyer seconded to TIE from March 2006 to April 2007.

Sent to TIE officials Matthew Crosse and Geoff Gilbert in April 2007, Ms Craggs’ e-mail voiced concern about the MUDFA [utility] works.

The e-mail read: “I worry that MUDFA and the advance works are becoming out of control and we run the risk of being exposed at the Tram Project Board.”

It continued:“There is no one policing this project as far as I can see. I think the board is becoming suspicious of the way we report to the board. While we need to highlight the good news stories, we need to be honest about where there are issues.”

Ms Clark said she was involved in managing the MUDFA works at the time but did not recall being informed of these concerns.

She was also asked about earlier evidence from former council employee Duncan Fraser, who explained they had wanted to get independent experts into TIE to carry out a review of financial risks.

Mr Fraser explained project management company Turner & Townsend had been earmarked for the job but were dropped in favour of the work being done as part of a forthcoming OGC [office of government commerce] review.

Asked why Turner & Townsend were not used, Ms Clark said it would have involved extra costs and duplication of work.