Analysis: Public deserves some answers over Edinburgh tram inquiry farce

Eight years ago, Alex Salmond stood up in Holyrood and announced a judge-led public inquiry into the Edinburgh tram fiasco.

The former First Minister said it was “important that lessons are learned” from the debacle, which saw the project mired in delays and huge cost overruns.

“We look forward to a swift and thorough inquiry,” he told MSPs a few days later, on June 12, 2014, when it was announced former Lord Advocate Lord Hardie would lead the probe.

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It has since cost the public purse more than £12 million and has yet to report back.

Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Notably, it has taken longer to conclude than the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war, and longer than the initial tram line itself took to build.

The intervening years have seen an independence referendum, Brexit and a global pandemic.

We’re on our third Prime Minister since then, and Mr Salmond – once the dominant force of Scottish politics – has been consigned to the fringes.

Scotland has changed, but the inquiry remains, seemingly as much a part of Edinburgh’s fabric as Greyfriars Bobby or the castle.

“We continue to make good progress towards producing the report and recommendations which will be published as soon as practicable,” insisted a spokesman for the probe when asked for an update.

Looking through old newspaper cuttings last week, I noted the inquiry was using the “good progress” line as far back as 2015, when worried news stories were warning the probe “could take as long as two years”. Innocent times.

With the tram extension to Newhaven expected to open to passengers next year, city leaders understandably want some answers.

Cammy Day, the new Labour leader of Edinburgh Council, has said he will write to the Scottish Government urging it to “make something happen”.

He said the inquiry is “seen as a brick wall”. There is widespread frustration at the lack of updates.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon previously said it would be “deeply inappropriate” to intervene in an independent inquiry.

But there is surely nothing stopping Lord Hardie, or another inquiry representative, from coming forward and explaining exactly what is going on.

Edinburgh deserves some answers, however late they may be.

The current situation is not good enough.

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