Salmond ‘has ducked out’ of public probe into tram farce

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First Minister Alex Salmond has been accused of dragging his heels over a public inquiry into Edinburgh’s tram project after failing to commit to any timescale in a private letter to the city’s council leader.

City leader Jenny Dawe wrote to Mr Salmond in September to say her administration was ready for a public inquiry into the troubled project.

But it has now emerged that Mr Salmond failed to commit to a timescale when he wrote back, saying only that he would call one “when the full circumstances can be examined”.

He added that the current situation “demands that the immediate focus should be on delivering the project”.

That has led to concerns that the inquiry will not take place until the project is completed, which is currently scheduled for 2014. Critics say this means more risk of information being lost and a chance that the same mistakes will be made on other major projects, such as the new Forth crossing.

Councillor Lesley Hinds, transport spokeswoman for the Labour group, said: “I think he is ducking out of having a public inquiry. If you take 2014 as ‘delivering the project’, does that mean we will not have a public inquiry until 2014?

“All parties are supportive of it and the public are as well, so let’s start discussions now about how it will be done, who will chair it and when it will happen.

“As time goes on, you worry about if all the information is there; 2014 is three years off and surely we should get on with preparation and get a date for this now.

“Would an inquiry not influence how the work is done for the new Forth bridge, which is a massive project?

“Nobody would disagree that mistakes were made on the tram project so can’t we learn from that? The Forth bridge is the biggest transport project in Scotland and the tram project inquiry could inform that.”

Cllr Dawe published the letter from Mr Salmond in response to a written question at a meeting of the full council.

Cllr Jeremy Balfour, leader of the Conservative group, said: “I have said before and I will say again that we need a public inquiry as soon as possible and we need it before we start any other major projects in Edinburgh or indeed Scotland.

“I think a public inquiry would show that the SNP’s fingerprints were all over this project and I think it will show they were more behind it than they said they were.

“The First Minister, the Scottish Government and other ministers were very keen to see the tram and they wanted it to happen and I think the SNP don’t want an inquiry because they don’t want people to know that.”

When asked if she knew when the inquiry will happen, Cllr Dawe said: “I have not received intimation from the First Minister and it is entirely up to the First Minister as to when he calls an inquiry.”

Council officials are currently in the process of gathering “vast amounts” of information for the inquiry.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government will be delighted to hold a public inquiry into this project. We do not recognise the reference to 2014.”