Alex Salmond orders inquiry into Edinburgh trams

First Minister Alex Salmond has said there will be a judge-led inquiry into the Edinburgh tram project. ''Pic: Ian Rutherford
First Minister Alex Salmond has said there will be a judge-led inquiry into the Edinburgh tram project. ''Pic: Ian Rutherford
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First Minister Alex Salmond has announced that there will be a judge led inquiry into the Edinburgh Trams project.

Answering Edinburgh Central MSP Marco Biagi at First Minister’s Questions, he said: “I’m sure everyone in Edinburgh and indeed all over Scotland will be delighted to see that the Edinburgh trams are fully operational and carrying passengers.

“We cannot, however, lose sight of the considerable public concern about the project, the disruption it caused to households and businesses in Edinburgh.

“I have therefore recommended to the Cabinet and it has been decided to establish a judge-led public inquiry to inquire into the Edinburgh trams project, to establish why the project incurred significant overruns in terms of cost and timing, requiring in particular a considerable reduction in the original scope.”

The full remit, timescales and details are yet to be revealed.

Mr Salmond said there were lessons to be learned from the project.

He said the inquiry would be “non-statutory” but would allow a “proper examination and public account” of what had happened with the £776 million project.

“It is particularly important if any projects like it are being considered in the future that lessons are learned.”

Calls for an inquiry into the controversial £776 million have been stepped up in recent days following the official launch on May 31.

An inquiry – set up by the Scottish Government and chaired by a High Court judge - will possess the power to require witnesses to attend and give evidence under oath.

Key figures, including councillors and officials past and present, will be forced to account for their part in the long-running saga.

Starring roles may well go to former TIE bosses such as Willie Gallagher and David Mackay, ex-council leader Jenny Dawe and ex-transport convener Gordon Mackenzie, as well as representatives from contractors Bilfinger Berger/Siemens and perhaps former transport minister Stewart Stevenson.

One of the key issues which an inquiry would have to look at is the poor relationship between TIE and the contractor which led to a bitter, prolonged and costly dispute, delaying work at a crucial time.

Transport Minister Keith Brown is expected to give more details of the planned inquiry in a statement to MSPs before the Scottish Parliament’s summer recess.

The Scottish Government has said in the past that it would welcome an inquiry, but that it could be delayed if the city council pursued its legal action against its tram project advisers.

It is understood a non-statutory inquiry would not interfere with any potential legal action however, but would likely be able to happen more quickly. It is expected the hearings would be in public and witnesses would give evidence under oath.