Gina Davidson: No one will come out of probe well

Tram enquiry would be welcome
Tram enquiry would be welcome
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INQUIRIES are all the rage at the moment, aren’t they? If they were in book form they’d probably be knocking Fifty Shades of Grey off the bestsellers list, such is the hype.

The Leveson show has been pulling in the viewers as the great and good from the worlds of celebrity, politics and the media get hauled up to show they’re all dementia patients in training with their inability to remember anything of importance in the last ten years. And the Treasury select committee is doing its best to quiz the “you ain’t seen me right?” investment bankers – although a real inquiry with a Robert Jay QC Mark II would be compulsive viewing.

I’m all for these real-life soap operas. Can’t get enough and can’t wait to see what – if anything – happens in the end. In fact, if I had the same inclinations as one Christian Grey, there’d be more than a red room of pain waiting for these do-no-gooders.

It must be all the accountability. I like the idea that people who do wrong in public life are being asked to validate their actions, to prove to us that what they did – be it filling their boots at our vast expense or filling column inches by hacking into private e-mails and phone messages – was in their eyes the correct way to behave.

Of course they can’t explain it, and don’t, having conveniently forgotten or misunderstood everything which happened on their watch. But for many this questioning will be the first time they have ever had to account for themselves and their actions. Real life has rudely intruded on their pampered, preposterous worlds.

But what I really, really want – to quote those arbiters of truth and justice the Spice Girls – is a public inquiry of our own. Yes the Great Trams Financial Untangling (GTFU) needs to get going. After all, why should all the fun be had down south? Isn’t this what devolution is all about?

Already this week, the new council administration has struck a blow in the battle to get to the heart of just what went wrong, by having a Freedom of Information request finally acceded to by its own officials. The irony of Labour – the party which championed the trams – having to go to the Information Commissioner to find out details of what its arms-length trams body was doing, could come straight from the pen of Armando Iannucci.

But now at least we know that because the SNP in the Scottish Parliament had their noses so out of joint after the other parties voted for the funding of the trams, in a fit of pique they withdrew Transport Scotland – their eyes and ears – from the board of TIE and then refused to let the tram company continue to send updates on how the project was going.

Childish doesn’t even begin to cover it. Wilful neglect of duty perhaps gets closer. Surely if they were unhappy about the £500 million being spent on Edinburgh’s trams, they should have wanted to see every dotted i and crossed t. But no, they took their ball home instead.

So, from 2007 Transport Scotland had no idea what was being discussed at TIE meetings. Therefore, neither did SNP ministers. They were as ignorant as the rest of us.

Yet Transport Scotland was still releasing money to TIE to pay for the works – obviously without any scrutiny of what was happening on the ground. It still claims that it was being sent detailed progress reports, so the question must be, were these false?

It was clear to anyone that work had ground to a halt, so why continue to hand out payments? How were grant conditions being met? Is this fraudulent? Nobody seems to have asked. It’s time that someone did.

Quite why the Scottish Government is dragging its feet over this is beyond me. It has made its position clear from the start. It didn’t want the trams. Perhaps it’s concerned that ministers will look bad given that they ordered Transport Scotland off the TIE board. It should be – but the public mood will not allow the covering of tracks.

And the inquiry needs to go much further back than 2007. Indeed, it needs to look at the whole establishment of TIE, who was on it, why they were on it, what they did ... the contract between it and Bilfinger Berger and the apparent lack of legal scrutiny.

But, as yet, no details have been agreed on what the inquiry will look at, who will be called to give evidence – or even when it will be held.

Nobody will come out of it well. Not Labour, who set up TIE and who seemed to have been more than optimistic in the costs. Not the SNP, who didn’t sit on the tram board, and whose government pulled Transport Scotland from it too. And not the LibDems, who were on the TIE board but who failed to ask the right questions. But accountability has to happen.

Let’s get the GTFU running before the trams rust in the rain – and more time passes in which memories can become foggy and vital documents mislaid.