New trams boss told: you've taken on Mission Impossible

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CRITICS of the Capital's £545 million tram project today warned the new project boss that bringing the scheme in on time and budget would be "Mission Impossible".

Richard Jeffrey, a former managing director of Edinburgh Airport, will take up his new role as chief executive of tram firm TIE next month.

The position, which commands a six-figure salary, has been vacant since Willie Gallagher parted company with the project for family reasons in November.

Mr Jeffrey's appointment will see him become the public face of the embattled project, with chairman David Mackay taking a more low-key role.

One of the major challenges facing the new chief executive will be making sure work on the tram line progresses unhindered by disputes similar to that which brought things to a standstill on Princes Street last month.

Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, an outspoken critic of the project, said: "Richard Jeffrey must certainly love a challenge to take over this project. I look forward to meeting him at the earliest opportunity and hope he will provide answers to the crucial questions – will the trams be delivered on time and on budget?

"At the moment it seems Mr Jeffrey has accepted a Mission Impossible challenge and I wish him luck. He'll certainly need it."

Alan Rudland, vice-chairman of the Leith Business Association, said he hoped the appointment would lead to more "openness" from TIE.

He said: "He has to engage with the business community. Willie Gallagher, for all his faults, was willing to get out and meet people, but we haven't seen that from David Mackay.

"We need to reaffirm the public's faith in the project. A lot of the time TIE seem to be hiding behind the contract and legalese."

Mr Jeffrey, the current president of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said he was looking forward to the challenge.

He said: "This is a fantastic job. I join the Edinburgh tram project at a crucial stage in its progress. I believe that the introduction of trams and their integration with Lothian Buses will make a real and positive difference to the lives of those that live in, work in and visit Edinburgh.

"I am thoroughly looking forward to meeting and working with everybody at TIE and getting to work on this world-class tram system, which will be the envy of cities across the UK."

The appointment follows a recruitment process which TIE said had attracted keen interest from leading professionals involved in a wide range of transport projects throughout Europe.

Recruitment adverts for the job said it had an increased significance because the Capital's traffic congestion is "set to double by 2021", with the tram project a vital way of reducing cars on the city's streets.

Councillor Jenny Dawe, leader of the city council, said: "It is a major coup for Edinburgh to attract such a talented pool of applicants from across Europe for this post. In Richard, we have identified someone with a proven commitment to the city as well as the management and engineering credentials to see the project through to delivery."

Until his departure, Mr Gallagher had been carrying out the roles of both TIE's chief executive and chairman and receiving a basic salary of 170,000.

He was also set to earn up to 340,000 in bonuses by 2011 if the project was completed on time.