‘Corrupt payments’ claim at Edinburgh tram inquiry

Neil Renilson. Picture: Julie Bull
Neil Renilson. Picture: Julie Bull
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ALLEGATIONS of corrupt payments are to be investigated by the tram inquiry.

No details of the allegations were revealed, but former Lothian buses boss Neil Renilson claimed to have information on the matter and agreed to provide it to the inquiry.

The issue was raised on the last day of public hearings before the inquiry, chaired by former Lord Advocate Lord Hardie, adjourned for Christmas.

Inquiry counsel Jonathan Lake QC asked Mr Renilson: “Do you have information to the effect that there were employees or agents of tie soliciting or receiving corrupt payments?”

Mr Renilson asked him to repeat the question, then said: “Yes.”

Mr Lake asked if he was willing to give that information to the inquiry before midday on Monday and Mr Renilson agreed to do so.

Later, Roddy Dunlop QC, for law firm DLA Piper, who were legal consultants to the council’s trams firm TIE, told Lord Hardie he had not known in advance about the corruption question being raised and asked for clarity on how the matter was going to be dealt with.

Lord Hardie said: “I think in the first instance I want to see the allegations.”

Mr Dunlop asked if there was a reason why the allegations were not being aired at the hearing.

Lord Hardie said: “I don’t want disclosure to be made publicly of allegations until at least I know what they are and some investigation is made into them.”

Mr Renilson was asked about the three-man “approvals committee” he sat on with senior TIE figures Willie Gallagher and David Mackay, tasked with giving the final go-ahead for signing the main contract.

He told the inquiry he was not confident the contract should be awarded, but he felt pressured to agree to it.

Mr Lake asked him: “If ever there was a time to say: I have my doubts, was that not it?”

But Mr Renilson said: “I would say that was far too late. I could have at that point said: no, I’m not doing it, but that wouldn’t have stopped it happening because I would have been replaced by someone who would sign. I’m confident I would have been back at Annandale Street looking after some buses with no other involvement thereafter.”

“It would have gone ahead, and some of the more asinine proposals that I managed subsequent to contract signature to get rid of would have been implemented.”

He said one proposal he had stopped was to lower the height of the overhead wires in Princes Street to save money. It might have saved £400,000, he said, because the poles would be a couple of metres shorter, but it would have meant open-top tour buses could no longer operate, losing £5 million worth of profitable business.

“That’s why I was better on the inside than being sent back to Annandale Street to play with my buses.”

Mr Renilson also told the inquiry the original idea had been for Lothian buses and the trams to be in competition.

And he agreed that had created an initial hostility towards the project.

“My job was to protect Lothian buses. We lobbied as hard as we could, and it didn’t take long. Once the politicians realised this was actually going to be a competitive thing against Lothian buses, it was: we don’t want that.”

The tram and bus operations were then brought together under Transport Edinburgh Ltd. Mr Renilson said: “With 650 buses and 20 trams, clearly it made sense, if you’re going to integrate it.”

When asked whether Lothian buses was then content with the situation, he said: “Not only were we content, we were actually very happy to be getting £500 million of investment into transport. One of the problems I had, though, was that having spent six months or maybe nine months doing our damnedest to make this not happen in that form, when it changed the other way, Lothian buses were still tarred with the ‘anti’ thing.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com