Chiefs are urged to honour early tram inquiry pledge

COUNCIL chiefs will tomorrow be challenged to stick to their pledge to seek an urgent inquiry into Edinburgh’s trams debacle.

Liberal Democrats have tabled a motion for the full council meeting reaffirming the need for an inquiry “at the earliest possible opportunity” and instructing the council leader to enter discussions with First Minister Alex Salmond to progress the matter.

Labour’s manifesto for the council elections earlier this year promised to support a public inquiry into the tram project and added: “We will if necessary petition the Scottish Government to conduct this inquiry as soon as possible because the citizens of Edinburgh have a right to know the mistakes that were made in its management.”

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However, Lib Dem group leader Paul Edie said: “We were hearing rumours that Labour was backtracking on its commitment. They said they would petition the First Minister and that’s exactly what we’re asking them to do.”

Labour and their SNP coalition partners were meeting today to decide their response to the motion. Labour transport convener Lesley Hinds said she still wanted an inquiry as soon as possible, but added that the Scottish Government had made clear they wanted it to take place only once the project was completed.

She said: “I say what I’ve always said, that the quicker we can get the inquiry up and running the better. But I recognise the First Minister has said they wish to wait until the project is finished.

“We can pressurise them as much as we want, but it’s in their power to hold the inquiry, not the council’s.

“If they are not going to hold the inquiry quickly, at least they should give some indication of when it’s going to happen, what the terms of the inquiry [are], who will chair it and when it will start.”

SNP deputy council leader Steve Cardownie said his party backed an inquiry, but he said: “The people of Edinburgh have put up with enough disruption. If holding the inquiry while the project is still going on would in any way delay the finish we should wait.”

Councillor Edie said an early inquiry was necessary to help the city council – and others – avoid pitfalls in big infrastructure projects in the future.

He said: “We need to know precisely what has gone wrong. I don’t think we have had a good explanation of that yet.

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“We need to have this inquiry so we can learn from our mistakes. No-one wants just one tram line. We want other routes eventually. It’s absolutely imperative we need to know what’s gone wrong so we don’t make the same mistakes.”

Meanwhile, Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale – who called on Alex Salmond a year ago to set up an inquiry – has written to the First Minister, urging him to set a timescale.

In her letter, she repeated her preference for an urgent inquiry, but acknowledged Mr Salmond was unlikely to change his view, “so I write to seek a compromise”.

She added: “My suggestion would be that if the current completion date for the project is the summer of 2014, you could commit to appointing a chair and a terms of reference by December 2013.

“That chair could seek to take their post early in 2014 and spend the first six months of their post collating all the relevant paperwork, formulating a work programme.

“That way, no time would be lost in the public inquiry starting its work once the trams are operational.”