Brian Monteith: I refuse to celebrate tram scandal

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So, the time has come at long last – and boy, has it been long – tomorrow Edinburgh’s trams finally start their uncommercial service.

Forgive me if I take this opportunity to rain on the council’s parade. For while many councillors and officials will be smiling like Cheshire cats when the ceremonial tram begins to roll, enjoying a little fizz or two, bursting with pride at their achievement, let us just remind ourselves it has been a complete and utter disaster for the city.

Even if the trams beat all their business case projections, it cannot be anything other than a white elephant – for the only way to make the trams worthwhile is to extend them far further than anyone could afford.

All we have done is replace the Number 22 bus service and the Airport Bus – with a poorer service that has fewer stops, requiring passengers to walk further and costing a great deal more. Even the fares have gone up before its started.

And never mind the financial cost – the construction has wreaked havoc on peoples’ lives and businesses just so that some councillors egos might glow. I personally know of businesses, companies with long illustrious service to Edinburgh folk, that have been forced to close to avoid ruin. And there are those in Leith Walk that were subjugated to mayhem – for nothing.

Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland will be paying for the trams long after Andrew Burns and Jenny Dawe are forgotten. But it’s not just the cost, not only the fact that the Edinburgh people were never asked if we wanted the upset and the expense – when we already had the best bus service in Britain – it’s the fact we could have done so much more with far less money, that would have benefitted many, many more people.

The £776 million total cost – of which the city is funding £276m – could have been put to far better use. We could have replaced Meadowbank, providing first-class amenities for our children to learn sports and be fitter. We could have rebuilt Porty High, our biggest school most in need of replacement – but the coffers were empty, we were told. We could have refitted the Kings Theatre and provided new amenities throughout Edinburgh’s housing schemes. There are so many dilapidated council buildings that could have been improved for everyone’s benefit.

Instead, we got a tram set for toy-town politicians. It is national disgrace and a civic scandal.

And don’t for a minute believe the pain will end on Saturday. We all know it’s only matter of time before the first cyclist or pedestrian is killed by a tram, and while a small operating loss is predicted past experience says that’s extremely optimistic. A final bill of a billion is now expected, more of your money will be needed.

Celebrate? There’s absolutely nothing to cheer about from where I’m standing.

Figures please, Alex

IT is almost beyond belief that after being in power for some seven years, the SNP cannot tell us how much it will cost Scots to set up the machinery of a new Scottish state. The First Minister has built his career on the dream of independence, he and his ministers have legions of advisers. The referendum is their big moment that they have all been waiting for – so you think they might know some of the difficulties they will face, such as the costs of setting up new tax collecting agencies, new customs, a new Foreign Office and all the rest.

Strangely, when asked the question they don’t want to answer it. On Wednesday morning, Finance Secretary John Swinney was asked 11 times on BBC Radio Scotland what the cost would be – and he refused to answer 11 times.

When asked later in the day Alex Salmond said £250 million without batting an eyelid. Funny that, eh? Such a round figure, no details, not even the back of an envelope or a fag packet.

The idea that building the Scottish Parliament would cost two-and-a-half times as much as setting up an independent Scotland just doesn’t make sense. The Edinburgh trams are three times as expensive, the Fifth crossing at Queensferry four times more expensive. Does Salmond take us for fools?

Just to highlight how wrong he is, let me remind readers that we already know that Swinney presented a paper to Cabinet that put the cost of establishing a Scottish revenue service at more than £600 million and that ICAS, the Scottish accountants’ professional body costed it this month at £750m.

So if that’s just the revenue what about all the rest, all the other buildings and extra staff? We also know that there is an SNP government paper, prepared two years ago, that made an attempt at costing independence. Needless to say it has never been released.

Salmond knows all of this, he knows the real projected costs. He either is too afraid to tell us the truth and has just plucked a figure out of the air –or he has a memory like a sieve. Either way, he is being economical with the economics.

The Scottish people deserve better than this before casting their votes.