Construction chief brands tram firm ‘utterly disgraceful’

An Edinburgh Tram
An Edinburgh Tram
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The former head of a construction consortium tasked with building Edinburgh’s tram network has branded the firm which led its delivery as “lying, conniving and arrogant”.

Richard Walker, who was managing director of Bilfinger Berger UK, said the behaviour of Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE) had been “utterly disgraceful”.

In a written submission to the tram inquiry, Mr Walker accused the now defunct council-owned firm of gagging the Infraco construction consortium – made up of Bilfinger Berger and Siemens – from speaking to the press.

He said in all his life he had “never met such a group of disparate, lying, conniving, arrogant individuals” as those at TIE.

Mr Walker said TIE went to the press “all the time” following the arrival of former chairman, David Mackay. Mr Walker explained: “We asked time and again to be able to speak to the press and put our side of the story.

“In accordance with the contract, we would submit to TIE the questions we wanted the press to ask us or the answers to the questions the press had asked us.

“We had to seek their permission to give those responses. Every single time we were refused.

“The gagging clause should work both ways but it was continually abused by TIE because they went to the press all the time, ever since David Mackay’s arrival.

“I have 40 years in this industry and I have never met such a group of disparate, lying, conniving, arrogant individuals in my life. To call themselves public servants is an absolute disgrace.”

The inquiry, chaired by Lord Hardie, is looking into why the tram project escalated in cost from an initial £375 million to the final £776m on a truncated route and three years late.

It has previously heard top TIE officials describe being told by the construction consortium that the contract allowed them to hold TIE “to ransom”.

Richard Jeffrey, a former TIE chief executive, said he was told this by Bilfinger representative Dr Jochen Keysberg in July 2009, just weeks after he started his job.

However, Mr Walker, who held his managing director post at Bilfinger from May 2006 to September 2011, said that they felt unable to put across their side of the story.

He added in his statement that he had never experienced anything like the tram project in his 40 years in the industry.

He explained: “I have never, ever experienced anything like this. I have never experienced people who are just so positively antagonistic, malicious.

“It was utterly, utterly disgraceful, and to think that this was a company that was created and appointed by a public body to manage and govern a publicly-funded project is absolutely disgraceful.

“If it was my money, I would want somebody to be accountable for the wastage.

“I hope this inquiry does more than just look for a way forward, and does something to bring,these people to account who’ve acted in such a disgraceful manner.”

Mr Mackay resigned as chairman of Edinburgh Trams in 2010, accusing Bilfinger Berger of being a “delinquent contractor”.

He told The Scotsman at the time: “Bilfinger Berger was a delinquent contractor who scented a victim, who probably greatly underbid and who would use the contract to make life extremely difficult for the city. And they have done exactly that.”

On major problems encountered during the project, he said: “We had found crazy things like underground chambers on Princes Street and cables were not where they should be… It was hell on wheels.”

Mr Mackay is due to give evidence to the inquiry this week as will Neil Renilson, the former chief executive of Lothian Buses.