City leaders split on move to sack tram contractor

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EDINBURGH's councillors are split over whether to sack the firm at the centre of the city's tram dispute, it has emerged.

A poll by the Evening News found that about a quarter of councillors think getting rid of Bilfinger Berger is the best hope for progressing the embattled project.

Almost as many, however, were in favour of retaining the German firm, with many blaming tram firm TIE for the state of the project.

The Evening News carried out its own survey of councillors after the Tory group on the council put forward a motion to sack the contractor, and asked them whether they would sack Bilfinger Berger and if they would scrap the project altogether.

A total of 50 of the city's 58 councillors were contacted, with 13 saying they would back moves to tear up the contract with Bilfinger Berger and ten against the plan.

Twelve answered "maybe", while 15 declined to comment.

The vast majority of councillors rejected plans to pull the plug on the project, saying too much had already been spent to quit now.

Among those polled was city leader Jenny Dawe, who said: "I am fully with TIE in their efforts to reach an acceptable agreement with the consortium, and Bilfinger in particular, that delivers on the contract.

"However, if every avenue has been explored and every effort has been made and there is still no satisfactory conclusion, then the inevitable conclusion would be that the relationship with Bilfinger Berger would have to end."

On the future of the project, she added: "Of course the project should not be scrapped.

"Trams are essential to Edinburgh's future sustainable wellbeing and development."

But deputy leader Steve Cardownie, a member of the SNP group and fierce tram critic, said the time had come to sack Bilfinger Berger and the project itself should also be stopped.

He said: "I don't think the project could be hampered by getting rid of Bilfinger Berger.

"The relationship between the two sides is that bad that there's no way they can continue working together.

"Our preference would have been that the project never had been started, but the best option now is the one that protects the public purse.

"If it can be shown that the project will cost a lot more to complete, we shouldn't throw more good money after bad."

Andrew Burns, leader of the Labour group on the council, blamed the Lib Dem/SNP coalition. He said: "In June 2007, Audit Scotland found that arrangements to manage this project were sound, with a clear corporate governance structure for the project.

"But, for the last three-and-a-half years, the responsibility for delivering this project has rested with the Lib Dem/SNP council administration and it is for them to answer any failures."

A report on the future of the tram project had been expected ahead of the full council meeting later this month.However, it is now understood there will be little new to report and a fuller update may not come for several weeks.

TIE has issued Bilfinger with nine breach of contract notices.

But the German firm is understood to have won 13 out of 15 independent adjudications so far and is confident of winning any legal battle.

What did your councillor say?

Question 1 - Should Bilfinger Berger be sacked?

Question 2 - Should the entire project be scrapped?

Elaine Aitken, Tory, Colinton/Fairmilehead: Yes: "We're really at the stage where there doesn't appear to be any progress in the negotiations, and we have to start seriously considering ending the negotiations and ending the contract with Bilfinger."

No comment: "I honestly don't think we've seen enough evidence to comment yet."

Ewan Aitken, Labour, Craigentinny/Duddingston: Maybe. "The administration should have done that a long time ago, but I would need to see more detail before I could say that for certain."

No. "At the moment I still think that some tram is better than no tram, but then it's about what then becomes deliverable."

Robert Aldridge, Lib Dem, North Brae/Gyle: Yes. "We should look at it. Clearly there have been considerable delays to the project and there is a poor relationship.

No. "I don't think that would be wise. There's been too much investment and I think the tram would be a great asset when it's running."

Jeremy Balfour, Conservative, Murrayfield/Costorphine: Yes. "We would hope there could be a negotiated settlement and both parties could walk away, but our view (Tory group) is that there's been enough legal breaches to sack the contractor and move on with this project."

No. "We're still committed to the project."

Eric Barry, Labour, Colinton/Fairmilehead: No. "I think the problems are more about mismanagement within TIE. We can't seriously fire Bilfinger Berger and bring somebody else in.

Yes. "My own view is that we should have stopped it a while ago when it was clear things were not going well. Things just seem to have got worse over the last year or so. It was badly designed and has been badly mismanaged - we need a total re-think."

Angela Blacklock, Labour, Leith Walk: Yes. "We should do everything we can to deliver the tram. If it's not working with the current contractor then we should look to get another, but I'm not privy to the negotiations."

No. "After all the money spent, the route should go to Leith."

Mike Bridgman, SNP, Portobello/Craigmillar: No comment. "That's up to legal opinion and I can't comment on that."

No comment. "I have always been opposed to the tram project. We're going to have to look and make an informed decision on it, but it's not as simple as just scrapping it."

Deirdre Brock, SNP, Leith Walk: Maybe: "I'm waiting for final outcome of the negotiations."

Maybe: "We've been consistently opposing this since 2006, but what remains to be seen is if this project has reached its tipping point. We want the best deal for the taxpayer and will be very closely scrutinising the progress report when it is released."

Gordon Buchan, Conservative, Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart: No comment. Works for Halcrow, which carries out work for TIE, so will not comment.

Tom Buchanan, SNP, Liberton/Gilmerton: Maybe: "The dispute between Bilfinger Berger and TIE should be resolved in the courts. We can't have non-operating contractors."

No comment: "I'm not in possession of figures that allow me to make a judgement either way. However, I want to see the amount of money we've spent to date broken down and an estimate of what it would cost to either scrap the project or continue it to a given destination."

Steve Burgess, Greens, Southside/Newington: No comment. "The last I heard, there were protracted negotiations. I could not say if we should pull out of the contract until we know all the details."

No. "I certainly support going ahead with the tram project. There's been too much invested to pull out now."

Andrew Burns, Labour, Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart: No comment. "We will await the reports that go to the council before making a decision."

No. "In June 2007, Audit Scotland found that arrangements to manage this project were sound, but for the last three-and-a-half years now the responsibility for delivering this project has rested with the Lib-Dem/SNP council administration and it is for them to answer for any project failures."

Steve Cardownie, SNP, Forth: Yes. "I don't think the project could be hampered by getting rid of Bilfinger Berger. The relationship between the two sides is that bad that there's no way they can continue working together."

Yes. "Our preference would have been that the project never had been started, but the best option now is the one that protects the public purse. If it can be shown that the project will cost a lot more to complete, then we shouldn't throw more good money after bad."

Ron Cairns, SNP, Pentland Hills: Yes. "We should have been very firm a long time ago. My personal view is that we should get rid of them."

No. "It's too far on now. We need to get the tram as far as the city centre, we can't just stop it."

Maureen Child, Labour, Portobello/Craigmillar: Yes. They should have forced the issue right from the start. I would have sacked them ages ago.

No. We certainly shouldn't be calling time on the project. I'm just appalled at the way it's been handled. When we left the project in 2007 it was on time and on budget but it has been continually screwed up by the Lib Dems and SNP."

Bill Cook, Labour, Liberton/Gilmerton: No comment: "I've not seen the latest reports on this issue so I can't comment at the moment."

No. "It's the issue of mismanagement that needs to be looked at, not just scrapping the project. There is the general feeling that the Lib Dem/SNP leadership has abdicated themselves from the project and we need to see leadership."

Jenny Dawe, Lib Dem, Drum Brae/Gyle: Maybe. "If every avenue has been explored and every effort has been made and there is still no satisfactory conclusion, then the inevitable conclusion would be that the relationship with Bilfinger Berger would have to end."

No. "Of course the project should not be scrapped. For all the reasons cited over several years, trams are essential to Edinburgh's future sustainable well-being and development."

Cammy Day, Labour, Forth: Maybe. "It's a hefty legal dispute and we are unable to just go out and kick them off. I don't think that's the easiest option, although it's one that's open to us."

No. "The traders and the public of Edinburgh have put up with enough and what we need is a speedy resolution to this."

Charles Dundas, City Centre, Lib Dems: Maybe. "I'm not ruling it out as a final outcome, but there's still a margin that they may be the best placed to finish the job. The previous months and years don't point to that, but we need to give them an opportunity."

No. "Even people who are against the tram in principle agree that not going ahead now would be a huge waste. There are lots of positives so far, including the utility diversions replacing the old Victorian infrastructure under the streets."

Paul Edie, Lib Dems, Corstorphine/Murrayfield. No. "I think they have got to exhaust every possibility before anything like that happens. I would be loathe to come out with anything as extreme as that at this moment in time."

No. "That's an absolute no."

Paul Godzik, Labour, Meadows/Morningside: No. "Since 2007 this project has totally unravelled. Since then we've seen a complete lack of leadership and the administration need to have a real look at themselves."

No. "With the money we've invested, it has to be carried through. This project was designed to go from the airport to Leith and that's what we should be doing. The trams are vitally important for the regeneration of Leith."

Norma Hart, Labour, Liberton/Gilmerton: No. "My view is that the leadership of the project is flawed because of the differences between the Lib Dem and SNP groups."

No. "Many people in the city feel that to walk away from it now would be a disaster. We have to see something for the investment that's been made."

Stephen Hawkins, Lib Dem, Portobello/Craigmillar: Maybe. "There are times when to get to the point when you've tried all the arbitration you can, but I don't think we're there yet."

No. "We should look to build the line, especially down to Leith, so that we have the infrastructure in place to take advantage when the economy begins to pick up again."

Ricky Henderson, Labour, Pentland Hills: No comment. "My understanding is that negotiations are ongoing. We've to get a report with recommendations on what the next steps should be. I don't think we should prejudge that."

No. "I'm still clinging to the hope that we can get something built and get a service running."

Lesley Hinds, Labour, Inverleith: No comment. "As a opposition councillor it's difficult to know what's going on with the negotiations and if you ask questions you are told it is commercially confidential."

No. "I have always been a keen supporter of the trams. You just have to question what this administration has been doing for the last few years."

Allan Jackson, Conservative, Forth: Yes. "There's been huge problems with the contract. I'm a member of the board so I'm reasonably restricted in what I can say, but the contractual problems are grinding on and it's time for TIE to consider pulling the rug out."

No. "Definitely not. There's no question of cancelling the whole scheme because I believe we would have to hand all the money back and take out all the work we've already done."

Alison Johnstone, Greens, Meadows/Morningside: Yes. "As far as I'm aware there are negotiations ongoing with Bilfinger Berger as to how much work can be completed and for what price.

"If they can't come to a reasonable agreement then there may well be no option but to say goodbye to Bilfinger."

No. "Given that the city has spent 375m so far, I would think that would be a great waste. Both the SNP and the Lib Dems owe it to the people of Edinburgh to deliver a project that's right, both economically and environmentally, for the city."

Colin Keir, SNP, Drum Brae/Gyle: No comment: "I'm inclined to say I'd be okay with them (Bilfinger Berger] being thrown out, but I'm not in possession of the technical papers, and we really need that information to make a comment."

Maybe: "I never wanted trams, however, I am aware we are looking for what's best for the Edinburgh taxpayer, and if it is past that tipping point, perhaps we have to go with it. However, if the possibilty to scrap it is there, and it is a better deal for the Edinburgh taxpayer, I'd be shouting for it to happen."

Louise Lang, Lib Dem, Leith Walk: No. "I would much rather we find a resolution with them, but I think we should reserve the right to cancel the contract."

No. "I don't think it's time to pull the plug. Even with all the pain, I absolutely still believe in the project."

Stuart McIvor, SNP, Inverleith: No comment. "It's not as simple as yes or no. The whole project is in a legal impasse and those on the outside don't have the full facts."

No. "It's not the time to make decisions of that type due to the current legal situation."

Tim McKay, Lib Dem, Inverleith: Maybe. "I still think that, long term, we need to retain the right to kick them off."

No. "We've spent too much money to cancel it now."

Gordon Mackenzie, Lib Dem, Southside/Newington: No comment: "We are in contractual negotiations at the moment so I can't comment."

No: "I think it's still the right project for Edinburgh and Edinburgh will continue to grow over the next 10, 20 years and the project offers the solution to Edinburgh's transport problems, which will only increase as it continues to prosper."

Eric Milligan, Labour, Sighthill/Gorgie: No. "I don't think sacking the contractor is the way forward. The last three-and-a-half years have seen the project badly mismanaged, with the SNP seeking to embarrass the Lib Dems at every turn."

No. "The project has turned Edinburgh into a laughing stock, but we need to get something built for the public expenditure."

Elaine Morris, Lib Dem, Forth: No. "We have to follow due processes and at the same time if it's discovered that they're found wanting they should be kicked off the job. But we are not at that point yet."

No. "If we want to continue to expand the city then we need a transport network like this, particularly from the waterfront."

Joanna Mowatt, Conservative, City Centre: Yes. "We would like to bring an end to negotiations with Bilfinger because this isn't going anywhere. We have to start being realistic."

No. "It was a good idea at the time and still is a good idea. We should be looking to get something out of this."

Rob Munn, SNP, Leith: No comment. " I don't know enough about the most recent developments to comment right now."

Gordon Munro, Labour, Leith: No. "I understand there are negotiations going on at the moment and I think we just have to wait and see before making a decision."

No. "Definitely not, but the tram has to go to Newhaven. It was on time and on budget under Labour and it's in the gift of the current administration how to deliver it."

Alastair Paisley, Tory, Pentland Hills: Yes. "It's high time the dispute came to a head."

No. "We've committed so much money to it, that we can't quit now."

Gary Peacock, Lib Dem, Craigentinny/Duddingston: Maybe. "I think it's got to be a possibility that Bilfinger need to be put off the project, but we do need to get all the evidence first."

No. "I think it will be good for the city in the long run and a lot of money has already been spent."

Ian Perry, Labour, Southside/Newington: No comment. "I'm a member of the TIE board, so can't comment."

No. "We've spent too much money to stop it now."

Cameron Rose, Conservative, Southside/Newington: "I don't want to make any comment on this."

Jason Rust, Conservative, Colinton/Fairmilehead: Yes. "I have great concerns about the handling of the project, but the key thing at the moment is Bilfinger Berger. As far as TIE is concerned, we need to be kept better informed about how things are progressing, if they are progressing."

No. "Given the stage we're at with the project, we can't cancel it. My fear is that we get to the next council meeting waiting for further information and there's no progress being made.

Conor Snowden, Lib Dem, Liberton/Gilmerton: Maybe. "I'm supportive of what TIE are doing and we need to resolve the dispute through the proper channels. If we can't do that, however, then Bilfinger Berger need to be thrown off for breach of contract."

No. "It's vital that we finish the project for the modern, 21st century transport network the city needs. I have no doubt the council and TIE will finish it."

Stefan Tymkewycz, SNP, Craigentinny/Duddingston: No.

No. "I've never been impressed with the tram project - it was a very expensive replacement for an excellent number 22 bus route. I think it's probably too late to cancel it now, though."

Phil Wheeler, Lib Dem, Costorphine Murrayfield: No comment. "I'm a member of the TIE board, so can't comment."

No. "I still have confidence it will be the right thing for the city."

Iain Whyte, Conservative, Inverleith: Maybe. "The group is fairly clear about this and that is if they're not going to make progress on this then we should be looking at a breach of contract and saying 'that's enough' and kick them off."

Maybe. "It may be a simple question but there is no simple answer. A lot of money has been spent already on this so I would like to see a report into what feasible options there still are to make the project happen."

Donald Wilson, Labour, Sighthill/Gorgie: Maybe: "It really depends on the complexity of the ongoing negotiations, some of which have been made public, some of which haven't. I think that's a decision that has to be made by the negotiators."

No. "On balance, the answer has to be no. The damage done by coming out would be greater than pressing on. The project was given a clean bill of health by Audit Scotland in 2007 and the failures since then can be laid at the door of the SNP/Lib Dem administration."

The following councillors could not be contacted:

David Beckett, SNP, City Centre; Joanna Coleman, LIB DEM, Sighthill/Gorgie; Nick Elliott-Cannon, SNP, Sighthill/Gorgie; George Grubb, LIB DEM, Almond; Jim Lowrie, LIB DEM, Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart; Marilyne MacLaren, LIB DEM, Meadows/Morningside; Marjorie Thomas, LIB DEM, Leith; Norman Work, SNP, Almond