£1.1 million bill suggests trams extension ‘will go ahead’

The new bill suggests that the trams extension will be given the go-ahead. Picture: Lesley Martin
The new bill suggests that the trams extension will be given the go-ahead. Picture: Lesley Martin
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THE city council’s latest multi-million bill for consultants includes more than £1 million spent in relation to the tram extension before it has even been given the go-ahead.

Total spending on consultants by the authority in 2016/17 was £9,724,293 – up slightly from £9,685,441 the previous year.

That includes a series of firms being paid a total of £1.125m for work on the plan to take the trams down Leith Walk and on to Newhaven. The money was approved in February.

Other projects which saw large sums handed out include external professional support for the City Region Deal, which cost £251,000; the council’s cost-cutting “transformation” programme, £200,000; and its “commercial excellence” programme, £674,000.

Blue-chip companies Deloitte, Ernst & Young and Pricewaterhousecoopers were among the biggest recipients of council consultancy spending.

Conservative finance spokesman Graham Hutchison said seeing such huge amounts go towards the tram extension contributed to a feeling the project was bound to go ahead, even though a final decision to approve it will not be taken until autumn next year.

He said: “Obviously it’s necessary for any project of this magnitude to have consultancy taking place around it, but it does raise a concern.

“The fact this kind of expenditure was approved some months ago suggests a certain inevitability about the project. There is a concern the tram extension is not being decided on the business case, but on the basis that it’s something the administration is determined to go ahead with.”

The bill for consultants was also criticised by Green councillor Gavin Corbett. He said: “Every year I seem to hear that consultants’ expenditure will be reined in, but here we are again with the budget having crept up, just shy of £10 million last year. Around a third of that is going to three of the big companies, Pricewaterhousecoopers, Ernst & Young and Deloitte, whose services don’t come cheap.

“While the council, like any organisation, does need to draw in external expertise from time to time, I’d expect to see the spending in this area go down, not up.”

The council insisted no decision had been taken on the proposed £165m tram extension. Finance convener Councillor Alasdair Rankin said: “Where necessary, we engage external professionals to augment the skills and capacity of our own staff. Not only has this expenditure supported the delivery of the council’s transformation programme, which remains on target to deliver £70m of recurring annual savings, but it has made a key contribution to £110m of procurement savings delivered since April 2013.

“The support of external consultants has also been critical to the City Region Deal, which will leverage investment in excess of £1 billion.

“We will of course continue to monitor spend in this area, and ensure consultants add significant value to the council’s own work and best value for Edinburgh’s taxpayers.”