Tram Inquiry: Findings ‘mostly common sense’

Tuesday September 19th 2023

Edinburgh Trams St Andrews Square

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Donald Turvill

A former Edinburgh council leader has described the findings of a nine-year inquiry into what went wrong with the city’s tram project as unsurprising and “mostly common sense”.

Donald Anderson, who was city leader from 1999 to 2006, welcomed the report but said it took “too long” to publish and failed to convey how the politics surrounding the scheme was “conducted in a pressure cooker atmosphere which led to lots of people who should have known better behaving irrationally”.

Lord Hardie’s nine-year investigation into the infamous tram saga concluded there was “poor management and an abdication of responsibility on a large scale,” laying most of the blame at the door of the council and Tie, its former arms-length company which managed the project, as well as Scottish Government Ministers who were criticised for withdrawing the oversight of Transport Scotland.

Among the main issues identified which resulted in the line being more than £400m over budget, three years late and half the length promised were a lack of collaborative working and councillors being presented with “misleading” cost estimates in reports.

Lord Hardie said the fiasco had a “significant and lasting impact on the lives and livelihoods of Edinburgh residents, and the reputation of the city”.

The 961-page report said a “lack of clarity as to who had responsibility for the performance of certain tasks” contributed significantly to delays and cost issues.

There was also a failure by the council to “exercise proper oversight of the project with senior officials, including the responsible directors, failing to challenge Tie”.

Mr Anderson said he felt “a mixture of emotions” upon reading it.

“Obviously I’m angry at the way the tram project turned into what was a horrendous problem for Edinburgh and its residents,” he said. “Hopefully we can begin to put that behind us now and if you look at the tram in overall terms and what it’s delivered for Edinburgh it’s been transformational in so many ways.

“I don’t think there’s anything in the report that surprises me, most of its common sense. The bits that Hardie doesn’t quite get in my opinion is the way in which the politics of it was conducted in a pressure cooker atmosphere which I think led to lots of people who should know better behaving irrationally.

“In some cases they provided misinformation to the people that they were advising which is just completely unacceptable.”

Conservative Lothian MSP Miles Briggs said the report was a “scathing critique of the SNP government and City of Edinburgh Council’s roles in a national scandal”.

He said: “After years of delays and millions of pounds of public money, we at last have some conclusions on the appalling mishandling of Edinburgh’s tram network.

“He is clear that ministers failed to protect the public purse and acted in the SNP’s political interests, rather than the public interest.

“John Swinney, especially, has questions to answer for removing safeguards that would have protected grant funds.”

Current Labour transport convener of Edinburgh Council, Scott Arthur, said he and the council leader “will act on the findings where needed”.

He said: “The success of the opening of the line to Newhaven, however, shows that the current administration has already learnt many of the lessons from what happened a decade ago.

“We have already approached the Lord Provost and asked that it is discussed at next week’s Full Council. We now have a service which carried 1.2 million passengers in August alone.Nonetheless, we are on the side of those who want the Council and the Scottish Government to show they have learnt lessons from what went wrong in the past.”

His predecessor, former SNP transport convener Lesley Macinnes questioned the “validity” of Lord Hardie’s criticisms directed at the Scottish Government, pointing out the new Picardy Place to Newhaven line was delivered “on time and on budget…but without involvement of Transport Scotland”.

She said: “This inquiry has spent an eye-watering amount of money and has taken an incredibly long time coming to its findings so it’s good that finally it has published its report.

“We look forward to getting a full breakdown of lessons learned but at first reading it appears that the tram extension to Newhaven has anticipated and reflected many of the report’s comments and should be seen as a positive example of delivery.”

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