Tram inquiry: Council '˜shouldn't have led such a complex project'

A national transport agency with the backing of the Scottish Government - rather than the council - should have been the body to take forward the Capital's tram project, it has been claimed.

Wednesday, 1st November 2017, 3:27 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 5:48 am
Councillor Lesley Hinds pictured in the drivers seat on one of the trams. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Councillor Lesley Hinds pictured in the drivers seat on one of the trams. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Former Liberal Democrat councillor Gordon Mackenzie said he did not think councils should lead such complex projects as doing so creates “too many opportunities for political division”.

Mr Mackenzie, who was transport convener from June 2009 to May 2012, also said councillors lacked the technical expertise to be make decisions on such a complicated project.

He was giving evidence as the inquiry, chaired by Lord Hardie, progresses through its ninth week of public hearings.

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Mr Mackenzie was asked about evidence in his written submission on who would have been right to lead such a project.

He states in the document: “I do not think that CEC should have been the body, through TIE, to have taken the project forward.

“I think that it should have been a national transport agency that did so, backed by the Scottish Government, and subject to separate legal advice.”

Later he adds: “I do not think that a political body, such as a Council, should take these types of projects forward; it creates too many opportunities for division and divulging information which may disadvantage the public purse.”

Asked by inquiry counsel Jonathan Lake QC to elaborate, Mr Mackenzie said it was clear the council would not be delivering several such projects and therefore could not offer potential contractors a “menu of contracts”.

He told the inquiry: “A big organisation that maybe the contractor is getting other projects from would have the power in the relationship.

“The council was small compared to the Scottish Government and I think size matters in these situations.”

Mr Mackenzie, who will conclude his evidence this afternoon, also spoke about the difficulties faced by councillors trying to consider the project given its complex nature.

In his statement, he said councillors “relied very heavily” on the advice of both council officers and officials at tram firm TIE, the arm’s length company established to deliver the project.

He adds: “Given what I now know about tram projects, I do not think that there is any substitute for the experience and skills that come from working in an environment with large-scale, complex, projects.

“I do not think, particularly in relation to my position on the TEL Board and the TPB [Tram Project Board], there could have been any training that would have helped substantially improve that position.”