Trams official was told ‘drop concerns or risk losing your job’

A trams risk official was told to 'stop challenging' or he could lose his job. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
A trams risk official was told to 'stop challenging' or he could lose his job. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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AN official tasked with monitoring risk on the Capital’s tram project has said he was essentially told to “get back in his box” when he challenged a superior over changes to risk allowance.

The inquiry, chaired by Lord Hardie, heard Mr Hamill was employed by tram firm TIE as risk manager in May 2007 and that he stayed with the company until December 2010.

It was read an e-mail from then TIE finance director Stewart McGarrity in February 2008, sent to various staff members providing budget figures for financial close.

In a reply, sent to Mr McGarrity on the same day, Mr Hamill said he was concerned that the risk allowance appeared to have been reduced before the risk had been transferred or closed.

Mr Hamill told the inquiry: “I was very concerned. I was concerned as to why it was being changed without an apparent justification. It didn’t reflect the risk profile as I understood it.”

Inquiry counsel Jonathan Lake QC asked Mr Hamill about Mr McGarrity’s response to the challenge.

He replied: “The gist of what was said was that my role here was to follow instructions I was being given and that there were people involved in negotiations that had more knowledge than me.”

Asked if Mr McGarrity was “angry”, he said he was, adding: “Essentially it became, for want of a better phrase, get back in your box.

“I was in danger of becoming an irritant by challenge. Another colleague said to me be careful because you are going to be in danger of losing your job if you keep going back and challenging.”

Another e-mail from Mr McGarrity, dated May 19, 2008, set out a summary of how TIE would get from its last reported budget estimate of £508 million to their final control budget of £512m.

He states the risk allowance had been reduced to fund additional payment to design contractors SDS, and that this would be adjusted accordingly in the Quantitative Risk Analysis (QRA) .

However, when asked about this e-mail, Mr Hamill said that up to this point he had not been aware that extra design payments would come out of the risk allowance.

Mr Lake asked: “Do you recall having been provided with any information to justify the reduction of the risk allowance at this stage?” Mr Hamill replied: “Not at that point.”

The inquiry heard Mr Hamill was asked to make a risk reduction of £1.3m, which he outlined in an e-mail to Mr McGarrity and other TIE 
officials on May 27. In his e-mail, Mr Hamill explains he overwrote the relevant number because “it is not possible to reduce the value of one risk in the QRA without affecting all the others”.

He writes: “I have basically ‘pockled’ the spreadsheet and hard entered some values. This solves the problem and helps us get the final result past CEC as I doubt they will notice what I have done.

“I will revert to normal practice for future QRAs. However in this instance I think this is the best way to do it in order to avoid unnecessary scrutiny from our ‘colleagues’ at CEC.”

Asked by Mr Lake why he used inverted commas around the word colleague, he said it was reflective of the inharmonious mood at the time between TIE and the council.

Meanwhile on his use of the word “pockled”, Lord Hardie asked if this meant he was “fiddling the figures”.

Mr Hamill said no, that he had not been given a “satisfactory” reason for the reduction and that this was the only way he could have done it.

“The reason I sent the e-mail was because I wanted it as a matter of record that this is what I’d had to do in order to satisfy the request that had been made or the instruction that had been made.

“The question is if you’re 
fiddling the figure, are we artificially reducing it?

“I had been told there wasn’t an artificial reduction because the reduction was reflected in the transfer of risk in the contracts that had been placed.

“That was the only answer I could accept. That was the answer I’d been given.”

The inquiry will continue next week.