Swinney to Edinburgh tram inquiry: ‘I didn’t want Government to get blame’

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DEPUTY First Minister John Swinney has said he pulled Transport Scotland off the board in charge of Edinburgh’s tram project because he did not want the Scottish Government to get the blame if things went wrong.

He told the tram inquiry his decision to withdraw the government’s transport agency from direct involvement was designed to make it clear the responsibility for the project lay with the city council.

John Swinney arrives at the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry today. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

John Swinney arrives at the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry today. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

He said: “If the project got into some difficulty I did not want the government to be explaining the difficulty when it was properly the responsibility of the city council to explain the difficulty.”

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The removal of Transport Scotland from the tram project board came after the SNP was defeated in the Scottish Parliament over its desire to scrap the tram project in June 2007.

Mr Swinney, who was finance secretary in the new SNP minority government,

pledged to continue with the £500m already allocated for the trams but made clear there would be no further cash.

He told the inquiry he wanted Transport Scotland to monitor the way the funding was being spent. “But I wanted the leadership and operational responsibility for the project to be clearly the responsibility of the city council.”

Mr Swinney said the government had not been bound by the motion passed by parliament but revealed he feared the SNP minority administration could have been brought down if it had not agreed to proceed with the £500m funding.

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He said: “We had been in six weeks and it was clear we were not going to change parliament’s mind on this issue.

“We were concerned, had we not acceded to the will of parliament there might have been some possibility that the administration would have come under some challenge as to its continuation in office and obviously wanted to avoid that.

“I didn’t want the first SNP government in 70 years to be curtailed on the basis of a tram project.”

The inquiry chaired by Lord Hardie is looking into what went wrong with the £776m project which finished years late and vastly over budget.

But Mr Swinney insisted that if he had his time again he would do nothing different in relation to the project.

He said: “I am satisfied with the decisions that I took.”

Inquiry counsel Jonathan Lake QC asked him: “You are happy with everything that was done and would do it the same way again if the situation arose?”

Mr Swinney said: “That would be my view, yes.”