Hardest job in politics: Lesley Hinds takes charge of Edinburgh trams

Lesley Hinds will oversee  the trams project. Picture: Jane Barlow
Lesley Hinds will oversee the trams project. Picture: Jane Barlow
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IT IS arguably the most poisoned chalice in Scottish politics. But a former Lord Provost of Edinburgh has agreed to take charge of the capital’s troubled tram project.

Lesley Hinds will be charged with ensuring the first phase of the £776 million project is finished in time for its latest deadline, in the summer of 2014.

Ms Hinds admitted the people of Edinburgh had “lost trust” with the council over the scheme but insisted she was still a strong supporter of the trams.

She added: “I’ve been in favour of the tram right from the beginning, when I was Lord Provost, but the big frustration for me being in opposition was the mismanagement of the project over the last few years.”

She will be under pressure to ensure that the project – which was originally meant to cost just £375m – does not go over budget again. It is also already five years behind schedule.

The city council has been forced to borrow £231m to ensure the tram can go ahead between Edinburgh Airport and the city centre, although finishing the line to the waterfront regeneration area will have to wait another five years.

Ms Hinds is one of the most experienced councillors in the Labour-SNP administration, having first been elected in 1984 and becoming the first female leader of Edinburgh District Council in 1993. However, she was also one of the fiercest critics of the handling of the tram project by the previous administration and regularly collided with SNP group leader Steve Cardownie on the issue.

Ms Hinds herself came under fire when Labour and the Tories joined forces to commit the council to cutting short the first phase of the tram at Haymarket, in protest at the council having to borrow so much to get it up and running.

The Scottish Government agreed to oversee the tram project last year – after threatening to pull the plug on its remaining tranche of funding when it looked like the first phase would not reach the city centre.

However, the council is still in overall charge of the project, with council chief executive Sue Bruce leading a large team of officials from both the local authority and Transport Scotland.

Ms Hinds will have to defend the council’s handling of the lengthy programme of tramworks, which still have to be completed between now and the first quarter of 2014, when final test runs of the tram are due to start.

Ms Hinds said: “I’m not going to say that the tram is running on time and budget, because it is not, but I want to see us adhere to the new timetable and budget that was agreed last year.

“There is no question it has damaged the reputation of the whole city and of council officers and councillors over the last few years. My key role is trying to gain the trust back of people. I will be more than happy to meet anyone – there’s no point sitting behind the door of an office.”