Comment: Will silence allow us to find out truth?

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Alex Salmond’s announcement of a judge-led public inquiry into the fiasco of the tram construction project has to be welcomed.

The time is right - now that the trams are up and running - to find out exactly how things went so badly wrong and who was responsible.

There is always talk of learning lessons at times like these. And that talk can often seem hollow.

But given the very real possibility of the tram line being extended in the Capital in the future that is vitally important this time.

There are natural concerns about the way the inquiry has been set up without the power to compel witnesses to appear. The fear is that key players will simply hide behind their lawyer’s advice and refuse to appear.

A full public inquiry would be able to order them to do so - or face going to jail.

But the obvious benefit of that has to be weighed up against the significant downsides of going down that route.

Public inquiries can be very costly and long-running affairs. The Penrose Inquiry into how hundreds of patients were infected with HIV and hepatitis C during the 1970s and 1980s has cost more than £9 million and taken more than six years. Non-statutory inquiries tend to be quicker and cheaper and can be equally effective. The last thing we need is another seven or even figure bill attaching itself to the tram project.

With all the critical paperwork available to it from the city council and Transport Scotland, a judge-led inquiry can get on with answering the crucial questions. Most importantly how did the contract between the council’s tram firm TIE and its contractors come to be so badly flawed, what impact did the lack of leadership within the council and TIE have when things started to go wrong and what was the effect of the Scottish Government’s lack of ownership of a scheme in the Capital in which it had invested £500 million.