Leaders: End of the line for the tram fiasco

The tram project has cost taxpayers nearly 300 million more than they were told. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The tram project has cost taxpayers nearly 300 million more than they were told. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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First they could not get the building of a tram line right, now they cannot get an inquiry into what went wrong right. Is there no end to the fiascos surrounding Edinburgh’s trams?

It was absolutely the right thing to do to hold an inquiry into why Scotland’s capital city ended up with a tram line at a cost one and a half times what was estimated for a track which is only two-thirds of the projected length at the time the contract was signed and was completed several years late.

This is a project which has cost taxpayers nearly £300 million more than they were told, caused three more years of disruption to city centre businesses, traffic, and pedestrians than they had bargained for, and is now delivering, given the truncated route, about half the benefit it was supposed to. But just recounting that as the charge sheet to which taxpayers rightly expect a thorough and detailed explanation also shows how naïve it was to expect that a public inquiry could proceed on a voluntary basis.

Those needing to give evidence are executives who, despite verbalising willingness to co-operate, will also be aware that their personal reputations and the reputation of their companies could end up shredded. The same can be said of the public officials involved.

It is impossible that everything that went wrong with this project could be down to unforeseeable complications such as unknown cables and culverts that needed to be diverted and reinforced. Other things went wrong too, and whether they were in the writing of the terms of the contract, or in the management of the construction work, or in the relationship between Edinburgh Council and the contractors is what the inquiry needs to find out.

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Thus it was surely predictable, as the inquiry’s chair Lord Hardie has told the Scottish Government, that some of the characters involved would not be too keen to co-operate keenly and closely. Few would relish the thought, if they privately believed that they might only escape censure by hiding material from the inquiry, of having the finger of blame pointed at them for what has been perhaps the biggest (certainly the most expensive) controversy in Edinburgh’s history.

Following Lord Hardie’s complaints of lack of co-operation, his inquiry is to be put on a statutory basis which will compel the reluctant to answer questions, and require the production of documents. If witnesses remain reluctant to speak, the public will know who they are and that they may be hiding something. Curious failures to remember things or inabilities to find documents may be as telling as a smoking contract.

Lord Hardie says that the inquiry’s new status will neither prolong it nor make it more expensive. Forgive us, my lord, but we have heard that before. We will believe it only when proceedings conclude and the bill has been presented.

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A monstrously clever beast

And still she lurks. The doubters, the cynics, the sceptics, have done their best to prove and proclaim that she cannot exist, that there is no possibility of her being anything other than a figment of over-excited and extra-gullible imaginations, that all the theories of what she might be are just that – theories, and as substantial as an autumn mist. And yet still Nessie tantalises and taunts.

Latest to be teased with a sighting through a lens foggily is Jonathon Bright. Of course, Mr Bright is not a plumber or a chartered accountant who just happened to snap an unusual photograph while on holiday with the family, but an investigator of legends and the paranormal.

What are the chances of someone like him coming up with an image of the famously elusive Loch Ness Monster? Slim to nil, we would estimate. But nevertheless, there it is in the frame and, with the benefit of a bit of squinting, looking remarkably like the head of the creature that Nessie-hunting scientist Dr Robert Rines depicted nearly 40 years ago. What are the chances of that too?

Somewhat curiously, Nessie appears to be wearing a weed- encrusted veil. A cruel and malevolent mind might aver that this is a picture of a shredding supermarket bag tangled up on a floating log.

Away with such devilish thoughts. Rather more likely is that this photo catches the adoption of a masquerade by an aquatic creature skilled by centuries of close encounters of the misleading kind with land mammals who stupidly believe themselves to be of superior intelligence.

But the Nessie evidence is now surely overwhelming. She is a creature far too smart for us to ever corner.

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