Ex-Edinburgh head of transport only spent ‘5 per cent of his time’ on trams

Edinburgh's former head of transport has said contractors working on the Capital's troubled trams project used "whatever means they could" to stall the scheme. Picture: Jane Barlow
Edinburgh's former head of transport has said contractors working on the Capital's troubled trams project used "whatever means they could" to stall the scheme. Picture: Jane Barlow
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A FORMER head of transport at the city council has claimed he only accepted the job on the condition he had to spend no more than 5 per cent of his time dealing with the tram project.

But he yesterday told the tram inquiry chaired by Lord Hardie that he had “absolutely no experience” of delivering a tram project and believed his skill set was more to do with traffic and transportation.

The inquiry heard Mr Poulton – now assistant director of transport in Newcastle – had initially not wanted the city council to pass on his contact details to the inquiry.

Asked why he had taken this attitude, he said: “I felt my very minor role in the tram project was minimal and I didn’t think it was going to be worth anyone’s time to get me called as a witness.”

Mr Poulton later agreed his role as TMO made him responsible for ensuring the council’s arms-length tram firm TIE fulfilled its obligations, including on terms of cost, timetable, risk and contracts. He also reported to other senior officials on disputes between TIE and the contractors.

In his written evidence to the inquiry, Mr Poulton said: “In joining City of Edinburgh Council in April 2008, I had absolutely no experience in delivering or assisting in any form of tram project.

“Indeed, at my appointment I was very clear with my director Dave Anderson that I was interested in accepting the head of transport role on offer on the basis that I had minimal involvement in the Edinburgh tram project.

“Mr Anderson accepted my position and we both agreed that my involvement would be no greater than 5 per cent of my time and would be reviewed in the future.” Five per cent of a 40-hour week works out at just two hours.

Inquiry counsel Ross McClelland asked him: “Why were you so keen not to be involved?”

Mr Poulton said he felt his skill set was different. He said: “I’m not a one-project person. I’ve got a broader portfolio than that.”

He said the job description set out a broad range of functions.

Mr McClelland noted there was no mention of a 5 per cent time cap in Mr Poulton’s letter of appointment and asked if it was realistic for a head of transport in Edinburgh to expect to limit his involvement with the tram project.

Mr Poulton said: “I knew there would be interaction with TIE to deliver the tram project, but I wasn’t really wanting to get involved 100 per cent of my time reporting on the trams.”

He said there had not previously been a TMO, but in the autumn of 2008 his boss Mr Anderson, director of city development, had approached him and said he wanted him to take on the role.

“I was happy with that so long as it was not going to be more than 5 per cent of my time,” he said.

Mr Poulton said he saw the role – described as being the “eyes and ears” of the council in the project – as a link between TIE and the council, reporting on what was happening.

But he said the post lacked teeth.

Asked if he agreed with the assessment of one former council colleague that the TMO was one of the “main players” in the tram project, he said: “Absolutely not.”

And he told the inquiry: “I did not see myself as a decision maker – more information giver.”

Mr Poulton said there had been a “void” in information coming from TIE during 2008, but the situation improved after a meeting between council chief executive Tom Aitchison and TIE boss David Mackay.

He said over time he came to the view the TMO role should be a full-time position. And the inquiry heard that a later review of the post did lead to it becoming full time and another official took over the role.

Mr Poulton also claimed main contractors Bilfinger Berger had a deliberate tactic of disruption or delay in order to gain extra payment from TIE.

“They were using whatever means they could to stall things,” he said.

But Mr Poulton agreed the contract entitled them to do so. “It just seemed to me at every point there was always an issue and there wasn’t a willingness to get together to see a way forward.

“Everything seemed to go to dispute.”

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