TWO senior officials in the council’s legal department refused instructions to review and advise on the main contract for the tram project after warning they did not have the necessary expertise.
Colin Mackenzie, a retired principal solicitor, told the tram inquiry he and other colleagues had recommended the council should get independent legal advice, but their views were overruled.
Mr Mackenzie said: “It was a very technical contract, a bespoke contract, it was one of substantial risk and there were reputational issues for the council. We took the view it would be appropriate that an independent review should be undertaken on behalf of the council.”
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He said he had received an email from his boss, council solicitor Gill Lindsay, instructing him to tell colleague Nick Smith to review the contract.
“This was against the background where we said we didn’t have the experience to properly protect the council’s interests on these matters. I thought it was an unfair task and a very tight timescale to look at a considerable number of documents.”
Mr Mackenzie passed on the instruction, but Mr Smith responded in an email saying that reviewing 1000 pages in less than 36 hours as “an impossible task”. He added: “Anything less than a comprehensive review of risks and obligations would not in my view be in the council’s best interests and I would be failing in my professional obligations if I did not raise this issue with you. Unfortunately, given the circumstances, it will not be possible for me to respond as requested.”
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Mr Mackenzie said he fully understood Mr Smith’s stance and added he was not prepared to review and advise on the contract either.
Asked whether Ms Lindsay was aware of their position, he said he thought he would have told her.
And he added: “I recall she had given a deadline for reviewing and reporting on the contract, so not having delivered that report she would have been aware what our position was.”
Mr Mackenzie was also concerned about the council’s plan to use the same external solicitor as its arms-length tram firm TIE.
“I thought it was an odd situation from the start. It was difficult to see there was full commonality between TIE and the council.”
He had repeatedly raised the issue with Ms Lindsay
And the inquiry was shown an email in which she told him: “There will be no further dialogue of this nature.”