Edinburgh Trams Inquiry: John Swinney urged to make public statement in Scottish Parliament after 'integrity' questioned by Lord Hardie
Former finance secretary John Swinney has been urged to make a statement in the Scottish Parliament after his “integrity” was questioned in “damning” findings published in the long-awaited Edinburgh trams inquiry report.
The scathing four-volume document overseen by Lord Hardie said ministers should have continued to be involved in the project after they withdrew Transport Scotland officials in 2007.
And the inquiry chair delivered stinging criticism of Mr Swinney, accusing him of a “lack of candour” and an “abdication of responsibility” for withdrawing Government expertise from the council-led project.
The 8.5-mile line between Edinburgh Airport and York Place at the east end of the city centre opened three years late in 2014 at a cost of nearly £777 million, £231m over budget, with a northern loop between Roseburn, Newhaven and the city centre shelved.
The cost of the inquiry was £13.1m to the end of July.
Lord Hardie, referring to Mr Swinney and Transport Scotland senior director Ainslie McLaughlin, said in the report: “As with all witnesses who gave evidence in person, they testified on oath and their lack of candour calls into question their integrity.”
Scottish Conservative MSP for Lothians region Miles Briggs has written to Mr Swinney, who served as deputy first minister under Nicola Sturgeon, urging him to explain his role in the trams saga.
Mr Briggs said: “Lord Hardie’s report contains eviscerating criticism of John Swinney and his role in the trams scandal – most notably his ‘lack of candour’.
“That’s why I have written to the former finance secretary urging him to make a personal statement in Parliament on the issue. The public deserves an explanation for, and response to, the criticisms made of the SNP Government by Lord Hardie, given that this whole saga has cost the taxpayer in excess of £1 billion.
“John Swinney has serious questions to answer, and it’s in his interests to defend his actions. For such a senior figure in the SNP Government to have his integrity called into question is damning.”
Lord Hardie had said in the report: “Ministerial directions are formal instructions from ministers telling their officials to proceed with a spending proposal in a particular manner, despite an objection from the permanent secretary or other senior official in the department. They are extremely rare and have been described as the ‘nuclear option’.”
He added: “Mr Swinney resisted the description of this as ‘pulling strings’, but in my view that is exactly what it was … I cannot reconcile this with Mr Swinney’s claim that he sought to exercise influence through the ‘proper channels’.”
But Mr Swinney had previously told The Scotsman on questions about his candour: "This is simply not supported by the evidence before him [Lord Hardie]. I told the inquiry I was informed of the progress of the mediation – but neither I, nor my officials, had a decision-making role or a veto. I have been entirely candid with the inquiry.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “All parties who gave evidence to the inquiry, including the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland, are now taking the time needed to consider the report’s detail and recommendations.
“As confirmed by the transport secretary, a ministerial statement will be made in the Scottish Parliament in due course.”
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