Tram report should have said more, official admits

The crucial report didn't reveal enough around the project according to a council official
The crucial report didn't reveal enough around the project according to a council official
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A SENIOR council official has admitted councillors should have been given more information on problems with the tram project before they approved the final business case.

Andrew Holmes, who was director of city development from 1999 until 2008, told the tram inquiry he believed negotiations between the council’s tram firm TIE and contractors Bilfinger Berger in December 2007 had paved the way for issues to be resolved.

But the inquiry heard there were still big delays in design work and utility diversions.

Inquiry counsel Ewan Mackenzie put it to Mr Holmes that the executive summary of the final business case presented to councillors on December 20 was “inaccurate and potentially misleading because it represented that everything was fine when it clearly wasn’t”.

Mr Holmes replied: “It was not written to be misleading, though I agree it could have said more. It should have said more.”

Mr Mackenzie suggested it was also inaccurate and potentially misleading because it failed to explain the effect the delays difficulties could have, including cost increases.

Mr Holmes, who is now retired, said: “From the council side we genuinely believed that the negotiations that had taken place had sufficiently de-risked the contract. With the benefit of hindsight they clearly didn’t, but that’s what we believed at the time.”

Asked if he had any concerns about TIE’s reporting to the council on the project, he said: “I didn’t feel they were misleading us. You sometimes had to harass them to get information.

“I felt there was a good trusting relationship with TIE, certainly a lot better than I had experienced with some of the other council companies. We had been working with them so long they were seen as part of the family almost.”

Asked about TIE’s expertise to handle the tram project, he said TIE could not be expected to have a track record of its own because it had only recently been set up, but he said there were enough experienced individuals within TIE.

The inquiry also heard from retired finance director Donald McGougan, who signed the December 20 report along with Mr Holmes. He defended the document, saying it made clear there were “unresolved issues” though it did not go on to explain what they were.

Mr Mackenzie said: “It may be suggested more generally that reports to council on the tram project tended to present an overly optimistic or rose-tinted view of matters, and under-reported or in some cases failed to report difficulties and delays.”

But Mr McGougan said: “I would certainly not agree with that. There were 22 reports to the council before contract close over the period of the project, and 15 after.

“And I think anyone who reads the whole suite of reports to the council will be aware that in overall terms they were frank and gave the correct position, and said as much as it was prudent to say in the light of some commercial confidentiality issues.”