Council chief says trams ‘doomed from the start’

Sue Bruce
Sue Bruce
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THE trams project was doomed from the start by “wildly inaccurate” predictions on how much it would cost and how long it would take to build, city council chief executive Sue Bruce said today.

In an exclusive interview with the Evening News, Mrs Bruce also hinted that she considered calling a halt to the project.

Mrs Bruce, who has been widely credited with getting the project back on track in her first year in the top post, has ordered officials to build up a “detailed audit trail” of all tram-related documents prior to a public inquiry into the fiasco.

She laid the blame for the project’s problems firmly at the door of tram firm TIE, councillors, and officials who made the original decisions.

She said: “I have views of why we had reached where we were at the start of the year and I’d summarise these views as the construction of the contract, management of the contract and the accuracy and clarity of which we forecast delivery of the project – how much and how long – which was wildly inaccurate.”

The former Aberdeen City Council chief executive said the tram project was the “dominating factor” in her first six or seven months in the job. She arrived to find the relationship between TIE and the construction consortium headed by Bilfinger Berger in disarray.

She set about trying to get the project to a position where there was “a decision either way on what we are doing” – an indication that calling a halt to the project had not been ruled out.

“My first impression was that we were in a fairly bad place with the tram from any perspective: the council, the contractor, the citizen, the taxpayer,” she said.

“I had to make sense of it and make progress. It also struck me that leaving it as is was not an option.”

She said mediation saw both the council and contractor working through the project “line by line”, eventually leading to a position where it was agreed to continue building from the airport to St Andrew Square.

She said there was now more confidence that the project will go to plan and work to rebuild the city’s reputation can begin.

“So far, we are working to plan. It is still a project with significant challenges but we know what these technical challenges are and we know that we can sit down and discuss these [with the contractor] and find a way forward.

“The important thing is that, if people want to go on holiday or expand their business, if they search the internet and hit ‘Edinburgh’ all the right reasons have to come up – that it is a seat of government, a world heritage site, the leading city for festivals, with great world-class universities.”

Ruth McKay, chairwoman of the Edinburgh branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, said of Mrs Bruce’s comments about mistakes being made from the outset: “At least it’s honest.

“It’s important businesses are kept well informed and have a voice, and we need to look at how we help businesses in Leith and the north of the city who are not now going to benefit from the trams.”