Leader: Edinburgh benefited from Colin Smith

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THERE are two very different ways of looking at the fees of almost £1 million paid to trams consultant Colin Smith.

The first is to decry the apparently lavish spending on a project which went hundreds of millions of pounds over-budget.

In that line of argument, this would be yet another example of largesse and loose control over ballooning costs, which almost derailed the entire project before it even began.

The other is to recognise that we all need to call in the experts at some point and – as anyone who has hired a plumber in Edinburgh recently can confirm – hiring someone with specialist skills and knowledge can come at a premium price.

The £200,000-a-year on average paid to Mr Smith is, of course, a considerable amount of public money.

If, however, that spending saved the city from wasting tens or even hundreds of millions then it becomes a wise investment.

It will be interesting to see whether Lord Hardie draws any conclusions on this particular aspect of the project in his tram inquiry.

What we know at the moment is that the project was in dire straits before the arrival of Sue Bruce and Colin Smith and there was no guarantee that the city would get any benefit from the vast sums of money that had already been spent.

Whether the city overpaid – or even underpaid – for Mr Smith’s services is a moot point, but it seems clear that we benefited considerably.

What is even more clear is that the city must pay heed to this experience in any future major works, including any potential extension of the tram line.

If the council does not have the in-house skills – and why should it for major construction projects when its bread-and-butter is, and should be, running schools, fixing streets, and so on – then it must be ready to hire in that expertise.

The plans for any future major projects must take into account the likely need and cost of hiring in such troubleshooting support before they ever get signed off.