Politicians and officials mostly responsible for Edinburgh Tram Project failures

Tuesday September 19th 2023

Edinburgh Trams


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Donald Turvill

The Edinburgh Tram Inquiry has laid most of the blame for the botched infrastructure project at the door of Edinburgh Council and Scottish Ministers.

The long-awaited report on why the capital’s tramway ended up costing more than double the original estimate, was less than half the length initially proposed and arrived three years late contains “criticisms of many companies, organisations and individuals” however highlights “considerable oversight, management and strategic mistakes” by politicians and officials.

The 11.5-mile line between the Airport and York Place opened in 2014 and cost the city £1 billion in total with loan interest payments factored in.

Inquiry chair Lord Hardie said his investigation found “a litany of avoidable failures on the parts of several parties whose role it was to ensure that public funding was spent effectively”.

He said “poor management and abdication of responsibility on a large scale” have had a “significant and lasting impact on the lives and livelihoods of Edinburgh residents, and the reputation of the city”.

A total of 24 recommendations have been set out for Scottish Ministers, including to consider changing legislation to allow for “civil and criminal sanctions” against individuals or companies “who knowingly submit reports that include false statements to councillors”.

Among the main causes of the failure to deliver the project within the initial £375m budget was the departure of Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (Tie) – the council’s arms-length company which managed the project until the controversies in 2011 led to it being wound up – from the procurement strategy intended to manage risk out of the project.

It also highlighted Tie’s failure to “work collaboratively” with the council and contractors, to “report accurately on progress and failure by [council] officials to monitor progress” and to “achieve the price certainty sought by [the council] and to transfer risk to contractor Bilfinger Berger (BSC) in accordance with the procurement strategy”.

Contractor Parsons Brinckerhoff were criticised for delays producing project designs whilst BSC and Tie were said to have not managed the contract effectively enough.

The report said a “lack of clarity as to who had responsibility for the performance of certain tasks” also contributed significantly, with “overlap regarding the respective roles of the various bodies created, and individuals appointed, to deliver the project”.

It added it was “unclear whether all of the individuals appointed to specific roles actually fulfilled these roles”.

Problems also arose from council officials writing “misleading reports” for councillors which included “false statements,” Lord Hardie said.

Another key mistake mentioned is the decision by Scottish Ministers in 2007 prior to work commencing on the tram line to withdraw the involvement of Transport Scotland which resulted in “loss of expertise in the management of major transport infrastructure projects”.

Lord Hardie said: “The Inquiry process has been thorough and robust but also complex, with literally millions of documents that had to be carefully reviewed and detailed contractual issues to investigate.

“This work has been time-consuming but necessary to produce a report which not only provides answers to what went wrong with the Edinburgh Trams Project, but also clear recommendations for future transport projects.

“What is clear from the Inquiry’s work is that there was a litany of avoidable failures on the parts of several parties whose role it was to ensure that public funding was spent effectively and to the benefit of Scotland’s taxpayers, and that the Edinburgh Trams Project was delivered efficiently.

“Poor management and abdication of responsibility on a large scale have had a significant and lasting impact on the lives and livelihoods of Edinburgh residents, and the reputation of the city.”

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