John Swinney told he ‘still has serious questions to answer’ over tram inquiry criticism

John Swinney. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesJohn Swinney. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
John Swinney. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Lord Hardie accused Mr Swinney of a ‘lack of candour’ and questioned his integrity in the report

John Swinney has been told he still has “serious questions to answer” about the findings of the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry, which questioned his integrity.

The final report by Lord Hardie said Mr Swinney, who is on course to become Scotland’s next First Minister within days, demonstrated a “lack of candour” as a witness.

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The inquiry published its findings in September last year, and found there had been a “litany of avoidable failures” in relation to the project. The probe was set up in 2014 to examine why the scheme went significantly over-budget as well as dropping one of the two initial planned lines and being delivered years later than first planned.

The cost of the reduced line from Edinburgh Airport to York Place was thought to be £776 million – more than double the initial sum earmarked at the outset by the Scottish Parliament’s then Labour-led administration – but the report found the best estimate is now £835.7 million.

Lord Hardie held Edinburgh City Council’s arm’s-length tram company TIE, the council and Scottish ministers “principally responsible for the failure to deliver the project on time, within budget and to the extent projected”.

TIE bore the brunt of his criticism. However, Lord Hardie said Scottish ministers also failed to protect the public purse. He said a decision by Mr Swinney, the then finance secretary, to scale back Transport Scotland’s involvement in the project was a “mistake” resulting in a lack of expert oversight.

Mr Swinney was also criticised for his “lack of candour” over what was discussed in a phone call with a Transport Scotland official over a deal to end a dispute between TIE and its contractors.

Lord Hardie said in his report: "I do not understand why Mr Swinney and [Transport Scotland director of major transport infrastructure projects] [Ainslie] McLaughlin felt obliged to obscure what transpired in their telephone conversation or its true purpose."

He added: “The lack of candour on this matter by Mr Swinney and Mr McLaughlin’s attempted justification for making the telephone call simply gives rise to suspicion as to the true purpose of the telephone conversation. As with all witnesses who gave evidence in person, they testified on oath and their lack of candour calls into question their integrity.”

Conservative MSP Miles Briggs said: “John Swinney ignored our calls last year to come to parliament and answer the eviscerating criticism from Lord Hardie in his tram inquiry report over his lack of candour as a witness. As he stands on the brink of becoming Scotland’s next First Minister, he still has serious questions to answer.

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“His role in the trams scandal is another example of so-called honest John being central to a sleekit cover-up while he was at the heart of the SNP Government.”

Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said: "Now that he is the presumptive First Minister, every decision that John Swinney has ever taken will be under the microscope, and Lord Hardie's findings were far from complimentary.”

A spokesman for Mr Swinney said he had "addressed this issue at the time”, adding: "The evidence before the inquiry did not support the conclusion reached by the chair. Mr Swinney told the inquiry he was informed of the progress of the mediation but neither he, nor his officials, had a decision making role or a veto. Mr Swinney was entirely candid with the inquiry."



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