Trams are part of our future, but have been badly handled - Ian Murray
Across nearly 1000 pages it catalogues the litany of “avoidable failures” which left taxpayers with a huge bill.
The inquiry itself cost a staggering £13 million and took nine years, meaning there are lessons to learn not only for major public procurement projects but also for those in charge of these kind of investigations.
We cannot have such a delay when it comes to the ongoing inquiries into the new hospitals in Edinburgh and Glasgow, or the SNP’s botched handling of the Covid pandemic – families deserve swift answers.
But, despite the unnecessary delay, the report on Edinburgh trams is thorough and detailed.
The documented failings of officials at Tie – the arms-length tram delivery company – were, sadly, not surprising. As former council leader Donald Anderson asked though, the question is why?
His verdict that the “tram company went rogue and good governance was replaced by self- seeking and arrogant incompetence” is as damning as the inquiry itself.
I have huge sympathy with councillors from all parties who were too often kept in the dark or worse – misled.
I was a councillor in Edinburgh myself until 2010, and it was clear at the time that there was a huge problem with governance of the scheme.
As the inquiry report concludes “statements that the contract would be close to a fixed final price, that almost all risk transferred to the private sector, that there was very limited exposure should things go wrong in the contracts, and that the cost of the project would be about £498 million or £500 million, must have provided councillors with considerable reassurance. Unfortunately, such statements were incorrect.”
In other words, we were lied to. How can councillors make good decisions with such advice? But the inquiry makes it clear that blame doesn’t just lie with those at Tie – the SNP’s former Deputy First Minister John Swinney is singled out.
As Finance Secretary, he took the decision to instruct Transport Scotland to “scale back” its involvement with the trams project. It was done in spite as a political move.
The inquiry found that this meant important safeguards were removed and oversight was lost.
This was all about party politics for the SNP, which had adopted an anti-trams position and clearly felt that was more important than governing.
It’s a dereliction of duty that has marked the SNP’s time in power. Just look at the government’s handling of the ferries fiasco.
There is a lot for the SNP government to learn from in the pages of this inquiry, although Transport Secretary Mairi McAllan clearly isn’t in listening mode given her dismissive response to its publication.
But amid all this, while I am angry about the incompetence documented, my primary thoughts this week are with all the local residents and business owners who faced such disruption. Livelihoods and jobs were lost and nobody will be held to account for that.
Edinburgh today is a vibrant city with a strong economy and the recent extension means that trams are finally serving Leith.
We can look to the future with optimism and the trams are now an integral part of our transport network, but the pain and anger felt by many will not be quickly forgotten.
Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South
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