Edinburgh trams inquiry work starts

THE judge spearheading a public inquiry into Edinburgh’s budget-bursting tram network has met with prominent city leaders to lay the groundwork ahead of a major probe.

Lord Hardie spoke to top city executives  to lay the groundwork for the inquiry into the tram project. Picture: Neil Hanna
Lord Hardie spoke to top city executives to lay the groundwork for the inquiry into the tram project. Picture: Neil Hanna

It comes as inquiry chiefs revealed witnesses could be allowed to give evidence anonymously.

Lord Hardie held a preliminary meeting with chief executive Sue Bruce and other “key personnel” last month – some of whom may be asked to provide formal evidence at the hearing to scrutinise what went wrong with the £776 million project.

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An inquiry team has already begun collecting documents in preparation for the hearing that is expected to focus on contracts drawn up between TIE – the firm charged with delivering the much-delayed network – and contractor Bilfinger Berger.

News of the meeting comes amid assurances that witnesses who wish to appear anonymously will have their names redacted from testimony.

The masking of identities would be deployed to encourage whistleblowers to provide evidence to the inquiry.

A inquiry spokesperson said statements or names of witnesses could be redacted “providing it does not result in unfairness to anyone else”.

“If there is a real risk of that, the witness will be offered the option of disclosing their identity or withdrawing the statement,” they said. “That should enable witnesses to give evidence anonymously, ensuring that the evidence is before the inquiry and that the witness has the desired protection.”

The spokesperson also indicated that the inquiry would try to accommodate witnesses who wish to give oral evidence anonymously and would “discuss the matter” with them.

However, they said: “The witness would need to be satisfied with any arrangement as the chairman does not have any powers to compel witnesses to give evidence.”

Inquiry officials have stressed the probe will involve “several phases” but a timescale for the inquiry has not yet been confirmed.

An inquiry secretary has been appointed in the last fortnight while groundwork to secure office space and assemble an IT suite has begun. Work on an inquiry website – expected to be a go-to destination for information on the probe – is yet to start.

Edinburgh Central MSP Marco Biagi welcomed the brisk pace of the inquiry team’s preparations and said the probe would help “clear the air”.

“It looks like the wait for the inquiry into the trams will be over much more quickly than the wait for the trams themselves was,” he said. “Everyone in Edinburgh can look forward to finding out what went wrong, and how to avoid letting it happen again.

“The Capital cannot allow any repeat of the mistakes of past council leaderships.”

A council spokeswoman said: “Lord Hardie and members of his inquiry team have had a preliminary meeting with the chief executive and other key City of Edinburgh Council personnel. We continue to provide whatever support and assistance we can to facilitate the inquiry.”