Former Lord Advocate, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, said there was no reason to delay an inquiry, and added he thought his own investigation into the Scottish Parliament building should have begun earlier.
It came as politicians and business leaders joined mounting calls for an immediate probe. The Scottish Government has agreed in principle to a trams inquiry but has rejected calls for it to start straight away, arguing the priority is to complete the project. However, when Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale wrote to Lord Fraser to seek his views, he backed an early start to the investigation.
He said if the inquiry was merely into the engineering competence of the contractors, he could see the argument for delaying it until the work was completed. But if it focused on wider issues, “it would seem to me that there is no reason not to have an inquiry in parallel”.
Referring to the Holyrood inquiry, Lord Fraser added: “I thought there was some validity in the criticism that I did not get going soon enough.”
Ms Dugdale claimed an immediate inquiry could provide vital information to help avoid a repeat of the trams saga.
She said: “The parliament building and the trams are two public sector infrastructure projects that have run massively over budget. We need to work out what mistakes have been made around procurement now if we are going to benefit future projects.”
Michael Dixon, Edinburgh chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, supported the calls. He said: “My instinctive view is there should be an inquiry earlier rather than later in view of the fact there remains a great deal of scepticism about whether the project can be finished within the timescale and the budget proposed.” And Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray added: “The public are so annoyed about the whole tram saga, it could do the project a lot of good to have a proper inquiry where people can see what has happened and the reason we are in this mess.”
When Ms Dugdale raised the issue in parliament, Infrastructure Secretary Alex Neil confirmed the government’s intention to hold an inquiry. But he added: “We will decide the remit and timetable for and the composition of that inquiry at a later date. The important priority is to try to get the project back on track to ensure that it is delivered and finalised.”
Ms Dugdale asked if the inquiry would also look at the roles of Transport Scotland, Audit Scotland and government officials.
Gavin Brown, Tory MSP for Lothian, said it’s a “difficult balance”.
He said: “I do think that probably all our efforts at this stage should go into getting the project completed.
“I would be nervous about anything that diverted attention away from that but I understand the view that people do want to get answers sooner rather than later.
“However, I would be slightly nervous about moving into the investigation stage while efforts should be on building it.
“Apart from anything else, other things happen while it’s being built so the best investigations happen afterwards.”
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