£500,000 bill for tram drivers 18 months before line opens

The  Gogar park tram depot
The Gogar park tram depot
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TRAM bosses are set to spend almost half a million pounds paying drivers and controllers for at least 18 months before the line is even up and running, the Evening News can reveal.

A recruitment drive is under way to employ and train 11 staff before the end of the year, long before the tram project will be complete in summer 2014.

Bosses say they will be involved in “testing and commissioning” at the 470-metre track at the Gogar tram depot near Edinburgh Airport.

But questions have today been raised over why so many staff are needed, so soon on such a small piece of track.

Lothian Buses, which will eventually operate the trams, insisted the testing of the track was a big task, with one of the first roles to be recruited being a general manager on a salary of £70,000 to £80,000.

The first two drivers and controllers will then take up their roles before the end of this month, with another eight being employed and fully trained by December 9 this year.

While salaries are not known for the drivers, it is understood they can expect around £25,000, which is roughly in line with a bus driver. Based on that, the 11 members of staff will be paid around £487,500 from December this year when they are all fully trained, to the day when the first tram actually runs.

Conservative Lothians MSP Gavin Brown called on Lothian Buses to explain why the drivers and controllers needed to be in the role so early.

He said: “Given the poor value that the taxpayer has had thus far from the tram project, I would call upon those who have taken these decisions to explain why people need to be in post so quickly and to justify their decisions.

“It’s incumbent upon the decision makers to explain that to the public and taxpayer.” Lothian Buses said the first two employees will assist with the ongoing testing and commissioning work of the mini test track at Gogar depot, while the additional eight – the vacancies for which will be advertised from July 16 – will work on the testing and commissioning of the test track from Gogar depot to the airport, which is programmed to start towards the end of this year.

The vacancies are full-time, permanent positions, with training taking around two months per employee.

Training will include tram driving, management of tram movements, work allocations, and control systems including voice communications, signalling and power management.

Lothian Buses said further positions would be advertised as required but would not say how many drivers would ultimately be needed when the line is up and running.

Managing director of Lothian Buses, Ian Craig, said: “Lothian Buses plc continues to provide management support and resource for an evolving operational and technical team that will ultimately be employed by Edinburgh Trams.

“As Edinburgh prepares to offer residents and visitors to the Capital an exciting new mode of travel by 2014, the tram recruitment process for a general manager and front-line staff is getting under way, offering exciting career opportunities for local people to become tram drivers and conductors.”

Transport leader Lesley Hinds said she had “confidence” and “trust” in Lothian Buses.

She added: “Lothian Buses has a great record of serving the travelling public, and I’m pleased to see that their plans for the management of the tram, and the integration with its award- winning buses, are taking shape.

“Construction across the length of the tram route is progressing well in line with the revised programme.”

Tax loophole ‘unacceptable’

EDINBURGH South SNP MSP Jim Eadie has called for an inquiry into how senior figures at trams firm TIE were able to slash their tax bill.

Instead of employing three consultants as members of staff, which would have meant they were taxed at a rate of 40 per cent, TIE is said to have allowed them to be paid through companies, which cut their tax rate in half.

Mr Eadie has written to Finance Secretary John Swinney and Audit Scotland, saying it was “unacceptable” that the directors were able to exploit a legal loophole.

Mr Eadie said: “It is bad enough that the TIE directors have received obscene bonuses, but it is wholly unacceptable for them to go on to maximise their personal gain at the expense of the taxpayer.

“In this time of austerity and when people are facing real financial pressure, these revelations will simply compound the already significant and legitimate anger felt by the people of Edinburgh at the trams debacle.”