Inquiry hears trams firm ‘deliberately misinformed’ councillors

Tramworks on Princes Street.
Tramworks on Princes Street.
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COUNCILLORS and officials were deliberately misinformed about the tram project by their own arms-length company TIE, former council leader Donald Anderson has claimed.

And he told the trams inquiry that council chiefs failed to keep proper control of the company they had set up to deliver the trams.

Lesley Hinds at the Gyle Centre tram stop.'''Picture: Neil Hanna

Lesley Hinds at the Gyle Centre tram stop.'''Picture: Neil Hanna

Giving evidence on the second day of public hearings Mr Anderson said: “There was an organised attempt to prevent elected members in Edinburgh from having important information on which to base their decisions about how the tram project was delivered and a lot of the very significant problems associated with the delivery of the trams project were hidden from elected members.”

READ MORE: Lesley Hinds would not have signed tram contract if she knew the truth

Mr Anderson, who was council leader from 1999 until 2006 and later became a communications consultant and worked for tram contractor Bilfinger, said he had been happy with the company during the period when he was council leader, up until 2006.

He had had serious doubts about the performance of the then chief executive Michael Howell, who left in June 2006, but was not concerned about the fundamental direction of the company.

But talking about the situation after he left the council in 2007 he said: “TIE developed a life of its own and went beyond the control of the council.

“I could not see there was proper administration and management given to TIE on a whole swathe of issues. It kind of told the council what is was doing rather than taking guidance or advice.

“I don’t think elected members or senior officers exercised sufficient control over TIE. I think they were too deferential in terms of allowing senior members of staff in TIE to give direction to the council.

“I would expect senior elected members and officers to be clear what they expected TIE to do in terms of meeting performance aspirations and be clear and honest in the information they presented to the council. There were significant failures in that regard from the period the tram project was signed off by the Scottish Parliament and began to be implemented.”

READ MORE: Tram inquiry latest: Contract signed before design finished

He pointed to the revelation that design work on the project was only 40 per cent finished by the time the contract was signed while councillors were led to believe it was almost complete.

And he also referred to disputes between TIE and Bilfinger which TIE claimed it was winning at adjudication.

“If you haven’t progressed the design work and you say you have, that is a deliberate statement, that is misinformation that is being conveyed from TIE to the council.

“If you lose adjudications and you present them as being successes, that’s deliberate misinformation being presented to the council, that gives the elected members the wrong impression of how the project is proceeding and makes it almost impossible for them to take legitimate decisions.”

Mr Anderson also suggested Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland should have had a greater role. “It would probably have been better if TIE had been absorbed into Transport Scotland and the project delivered that way.”

He will continue his evidence today.

Earlier, Ewan Aitken, who served as council leader 2006-07, told the inquiry it was frustrating when councillors were refused information about the project on grounds of commercial confidentiality.

“The difficulty is knowing when that is actually the case and when that being used as a blanket way of keeping information away.”

Inquiry counsel Jonathan Lake QC suggested those with information might have been wary of sharing in views of suspected leaks.

But Mr Aitken said: “You create difficulties when you define your methodology on the alleged behaviour of one or two folk if the consequence is others are not getting the information they require.”

Mr Lake also suggested Labour in opposition could have withdrawn support from the project if they were not getting information they needed.

But Mr Aitken said: “That would assume it was the political administration that were withholding the information. I don’t think generally speaking that was the case. I don’t think it would have been a productive strategy.”

He said the Liberal Democrat-SNP coalition which took over in 2007 had inbuilt problems in handling the project because the Lib Dems were in favour of the trams but the SNP were against.

He said: “The coalition agreement clearly said the one thing they would not agree on was the trams.

“You would then assume there would be a strategy from the pro-tram party to get decisions through council by working with other parties. That was not the case.”

He said up to 2007 there had been near-unanimity on the tram project within the council.

And after 2012, when Labour formed a coalition with the SNP, it got the SNP to agree to implement the project and tried to draw all parties into discussions.

But in the crucial 2007-12 period, the governing coalition had been split on the biggest project in the city.

Trams finally started running five years late in 2014. The line is just over half the length originally proposed and the £776m cost is double the sum initially allocated.

The inquiry public hearings, at Waverley Gate, Waterloo Place, are being held every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday until Christmas and beyond.