More powers for Edinburgh trams fiasco inquiry

Inquiry follows the line being completed three years later at a cost of �776 million. Picture: Toby Williams

Inquiry follows the line being completed three years later at a cost of �776 million. Picture: Toby Williams

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THE official inquiry into the Edinburgh trams fiasco has been given powers to compel key figures to give evidence after the man leading the probe revealed some had refused to co-operate.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced yesterday that the inquiry would be given statutory powers to call witnesses, describing the refusal to co-operate as “unjustifiable”.

It means if any of those called upon continue to refuse to help, they could face up to six months in jail.

Officials confirmed last night a conviction could be imposed under Section 35 of the Inquiries Act 2005 as the ultimate sanction. Inquiry chairman Lord Hardie is determined to get to the bottom of the fiasco after revealing his investigation had “not received the participation it requires”.

Councillors in Edinburgh tried to lift any bar on participation in June when they agreed to waive confidentiality agreements banning former Transport Initiatives Edinburgh [TIE] and council staff from discussing the tram project “should they choose” at the inquiry.

The change in status from a non-statutory to a statutory inquiry leaves all witnesses open to questions about the beleaguered transport project that first began running in May after six years of disruption and rising costs.

The Scottish Government and inquiry team have not said who refused to take part, but The Scotsman understands at least one senior official of council tram firm TIE has privately expressed reluctance in the past.

By contrast, the contractors’ consortium are understood to be keen to have a chance to put their side of the story after being effectively gagged during major disputes with TIE.

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Richard Jeffrey, TIE’s chief executive at the time, has told The Scotsman he would give evidence to the inquiry. However, it is not known whether other TIE figures were as willing.

Other major figures who are likely to provide evidence include former TIE chairman David Mackay, who quit in 2010, calling main construction firm Bilfinger Berger “delinquent” and the project “hell on wheels”.

The long list of other TIE officials who Lord Hardie may also seek to question include Willie Gallagher, a former executive chairman, finance director Stewart McGarrity, past project directors Andie Harper and Alex Macaulay, deputy project director Susan Clark, human relations and communications director Colin McLauchlan, customer services director Mandy Haeburn-Little, and Michael Howell, another ex-chief executive.

However, Alastair Richards, a former TIE managing director, said last night: “They have not got in touch with me at all.”

Former project director Steven Bell also said he had not been contacted but would be happy to speak to officials.

Key city council figures at the time of the dispute are also expected to have been called, such as former Liberal Democrat leader Jenny Dawe and Lib Dem transport convener Gordon Mackenzie.

Council officials likely to have been contacted by the inquiry include former city development chief Dave Anderson, and transport chiefs Andrew Holmes and Marshall Poulton.

Others closely involved with the project included Andrew Fitchie, who was a partner at law firm DLA Piper.

The inquiry follows the completion of the 8.5-mile line, which finally opened in May, three years late. Its cost rocketed to £776 million, more than twice the original estimate for an initially planned two-line network.

Ms Sturgeon added: “It was the view of the Scottish Government that a non-statutory inquiry with the co-operation of those with knowledge of the project was the simplest way to ensure the swift answers that people want.

“Lord Hardie has, however, now reported a lack of co-operation by some, which is clearly unjustifiable.

“I have therefore given the inquiry the statutory powers he has requested to ensure that the necessary evidence is secured and a robust final report produced. I continue to attach great importance to an inquiry that is quick, efficient and cost-effective.” Lord Hardie said: “The inquiry is in the preliminary investigation stage, which includes retrieving and reviewing a large body of documentary evidence, scoping the work to be carried out and identifying potential witnesses, as well as securing sufficient staff and technical resources to manage material recovered.”

The judge said the inquiry aimed to establish why the Edinburgh trams project incurred delays, cost more than originally budgeted and, through reductions in scope, delivered significantly less than projected.

Council leader Andrew Burns said: “The council has consistently stated its commitment to cooperate fully with the inquiry and we continue to provide whatever support and assistance we can to facilitate it.”

Edinburgh Southern SNP MSP Jim Eadie welcomed yesterday’s move in a response to his question to Ms Sturgeon.

He said: “Given the widespread public anger over the mismanagement of the Edinburgh trams project, it is now right that Lord Hardie be given the extensive powers necessary to conduct a full and thorough investigation.”

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