Scottish Government must order immediate public inquiry into trams debacle

In the May local elections the people of Edinburgh made it quite clear how angry and frustrated they feel about the management of the tram project. It’s a feeling shared by most councillors past and present.

In fact, in the months leading up to the elections all parties united to ask for an urgent inquiry into the tram project, because we all recognised the people of Edinburgh, who have suffered years of disruption and inconvenience, need answers to their questions.

Jenny Dawe, the Lib Dem leader of the council at that time, made it quite clear that we wanted an open, thorough and transparent inquiry as quickly as possible, and all parties agreed.

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However, the decision on whether or when to hold the inquiry lies with the SNP Government, and they seem reluctant to get moving on it. That’s why I put a motion before the council asking for an inquiry as soon as possible.

Of course, there are arguments that we shouldn’t distract officials from the important task of getting the revised tram programme finished on schedule. We’re all desperate to get it completed.

But we should also be aware that many of those involved in the original decisions no longer work on the project. From the various partners involved a number of key people have retired or moved on, and it is important that their knowledge and involvement forms part of the inquiry. We must not wait so long that memories fade or paper trails are lost or become incomplete.

It takes some time to set up an inquiry. There is no reason whatsoever why the SNP government should have any further delay in getting the inquiry set up and ready to go at the earliest possible opportunity. After all, it is about to be involved in a huge project – the new Forth crossing – and it is likely that it could learn valuable lessons to make that project work better, from things which went wrong (or went well) in the tram project.

Like many people I am convinced that when it is finished the tram will be a great asset to the city, as one of the major elements of infrastructure which our city needs for its economic development and environmental improvement over the next 50 years.

The lack of a full inquiry means that the positive benefits it will bring are constantly undermined by a steady drip of negative stories, as individual aspects of the project are revealed through Freedom of Information requests.

It would be far better for everything to be openly on the table and for Edinburgh citizens to get the full story so that they can make a judgement on all the facts.

As a Lib Dem, I am committed to open, transparent and accountable government at all levels. The people of Edinburgh deserve a tram inquiry and answers to their questions as soon as possible. All parties on the council support it. We’re just waiting for the SNP at Holyrood to deliver it. It’s time they got on with it.

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Councillor Robert Aldridge is Lib Dem transport spokesman on the city council