Time to bring Edinburgh Tram Inquiry findings out of the dark - John McLellan

If curiosity kills cats, Scotland’s safest place for fidgety felines should be Victoria Quay in Leith, home of the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry.

By John McLellan
Thursday, 25th November 2021, 4:55 am
Lord Andrew Hardie, chairman of the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry. PIC: Lisa Ferguson
Lord Andrew Hardie, chairman of the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry. PIC: Lisa Ferguson

The Evening News reported this week that the investigation into the shambolic £776m project has now taken longer than the Chilcott Inquiry into the Iraq War, and at £12m and rising will probably end up costing the same. Why it takes longer to investigate the failures in building 12 miles of tram track and a handful of loose contracts than geopolitics and the operations of the world’s most sophisticated intelligence services would banjax the most inquiring of minds.

While it’s bad enough there is still no sign of a report being produced by the inquiry chair Lord Hardie, the lack of any visible activity in the past three years is as hard to understand. The closing written submissions were lodged in May 2018 and the final update the following November, so that’s three years since the last written evidence was lodged.

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The inquiry website’s news section has a one-paragraph item posted in February 2019, to clarify that the inquiry team had not given any advice to the City Council about the Newhaven completion project. The previous entry goes back to April 2018, so that it for three and a half years.

Three and a half years of silence and the demand for answers from the City Council and the Scottish Government, which commissioned it, have been notable for their absence. No significant parliamentary questions or debates, nothing other than an increasingly forlorn hope that something will turn up eventually; to the relief of all those cats in Leith, no curiosity to find out what on earth is going on.

The original remit was to give the Scottish Government recommendations about how similar tram and light rail projects could avoid the failures of Edinburgh’s project. Yet only this week the City Council was issuing a press release about how swimmingly the Newhaven completion is going, and if so the report risks just being a hideously expensive history book.

For all we know, a serious problem might be preventing publication, but the public which bankrolled this farce is being left to guess. Are some of the individuals concerned objecting to preliminary findings? Are any of the organisations involved getting set for more legal action?

If the answer is yes, then the time for explanations has long past, but if it’s no then the report should be published forthwith before this charade brings the city into even more disrepute.

Is there something preventing Lord Hardie from completing the work which no-one can mention in public? If no, ministers should demand that he gives them a publication date, and if yes they should appoint a replacement to finish the job.

Maybe all the answers to all these question are known somewhere and I’m being unfair, but what’s not in any doubt is that the public hasn’t a clue what’s happening. Reputations are hanging on the result and it is simply unacceptable for this to drag on any longer.

Just don’t expect the City Council administration to join the call for publication. Keeping its dirty washing well away from the public laundry is just the way it likes it.

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