Ex-minister claims Edinburgh trams ‘value for money’

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FORMER Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson has claimed the Scottish Government got “value for money” from its £500m grant to Edinburgh’s troubled tram project.

But he acknowledged it would have been “better value for money” if the route had been built all the way to Newhaven for the £500m, as originally intended.

Passengers Louise MacLellan and Jamie Cockburn jump up to mark the official start of the Edinburgh Tram system.' Picture: Ian Rutherford

Passengers Louise MacLellan and Jamie Cockburn jump up to mark the official start of the Edinburgh Tram system.' Picture: Ian Rutherford

Mr Stevenson was giving evidence to the tram inquiry chaired by Lord Hardie at the start of the final week of public hearings.

He was Transport Minister when the SNP first won power at Holyrood and tried to halt the tram project in 2007.

After opposition parties combined to frustrate the move, the Scottish Government agreed to pay the promised £500m grant but “not a penny more” and it withdrew Transport Scotland from direct involvement in the project.

Mr Stevenson told the inquiry: “In line with our desire to improve clarity of responsibility for delivery of the project, we withdrew Transport Scotland from the Tram Project Board as their presence may have given the appearance of Transport Scotland bearing some responsibility for delivery of the project. We were clear that we were funders and funders only.”

And he quoted an ancient Chinese philosopher and military strategist to support his argument.

“Two thousand five hundred years ago, Sun Tzu said no plan survives first contact with the enemy and the same is true of project management – when you start digging holes in the ground and start engaging with the physical business of a civil engineering project, you will meet problems that are unforeseen; that will lead to the project having to be modified and with our people from Transport Scotland sitting on the board carried the very real danger of drawing Transport Scotland staff into issues which properly were for the City of Edinburgh.”

Mr Stevenson was questioned by both Lord Hardie and inquiry counsel Jonathan Lake QC about whether the government got value for money from the project.

He said: “Yes, it got value for money. It could have got better value for money.

“We got what we paid for. The reason I say that is we paid out money against specific work activities.

“The intention was to take the tram all the way down to the coast. The question of whether the £500m delivered value for money is a broader question in that it delivered less value for money than going all the way, but that is not to say it did not deliver value for money.

“You have a project whose utilisation is exceeding targets; in commercial terms it is in profit; so, as a project, it is delivering a return for public investment. But I accept it is less value for money than a project which would have gone all the way down to the shore.”

Mr Lake persisted: “You didn’t get the value you thought you were going to get when you decided to pay the grant.”

Mr Stevenson said: “Correct.”