Tram Inquiry: Princes Street stand-off was ‘not deliberate’

A tram negotiates the turn onto Princes Street. Picture: Lesley Martin
A tram negotiates the turn onto Princes Street. Picture: Lesley Martin

A REFUSAL to start tram works on Princes Street which resulted in a lengthy stand-off was not a deliberate tactic to get paid more for construction, the tram inquiry has heard.

Michael Flynn, who was director of major projects at Siemens from April 2007 to summer 2011, said the construction consortium instead wanted to make sure the basis of work was clarified before getting started.

The consortium – made up of Bilfinger Berger and Siemens – has previously been accused of taking advantage of the street’s high profile nature to force tram firm TIE to pay them more money.

Mr Flynn told the inquiry he did not believe this was the case and that it was TIE which chose Princes Street as the starting location.

Pressing the issue, counsel to the inquiry Ross McClelland said: “Yes, but the stand-off arose because the consortium exercises its view of its rights not to work. I’m just wondering if that had been done as part of a deliberate strategy in such a high profile place as part of an effort to put pressure on TIE to renegotiate the price increases for the works.”

Mr Flynn replied: “I don’t recall or I don’t believe that being a deliberate objective.

“I think it was an element of making sure that before stepping into Princes Street, that the basis upon which the work would be done was sorted out.

“I believe, and this was discussed within the consortium, as to, well, why not start and then force the contract to be applied. But there was a view that that would be even more disruptive, and again, it was one of those things where there wasn’t a desire to prolong the pain unnecessarily.”

The inquiry heard the lack of activity in Princes Street was receiving a lot of 
criticism in the press but that the consortium could not speak openly due to the terms of their contract.

Mr Flynn said TIE appeared to be using media pressure as leverage to get the consortium to accept risks and undertake works without additional costs. He described TIE’s media tactics as “inappropriate” and that it “pointed to a weakness in TIE to administer the contract”.

Mr Flynn, who was giving evidence as the inquiry moves through its 14th week of public hearings, was also asked about Siemens’ general attitude to the problems encountered on the tram project.

He told the inquiry his firm had made “several attempts” to help solve problems which arose but that these proved unsuccessful.

Asked why, Mr Flynn said he felt “people got lost in the detail”, with too much focus on the project’s contract and not enough on the bigger picture.

He explained: “In organisations that I have worked for in the past, there would be a hierarchy who would challenge you in terms of what are you doing and how are you going about it.

“They would drag you out of your day-to-day activity to see the bigger picture. I wonder whether TIE were subjected to that degree of challenge by their corporate organisation.”

florence.snead@edinburghnews.com