Tram inquiry latest: Contract signed before design finished

FORMER councillor Lesley Hinds has told the Edinburgh tram inquiry that she would not have been happy about signing the contract in 2007 if she had known the true state of the project.

The tram inquiry is on day two
The tram inquiry is on day two

She said she had learned from documents shown to her in preparation for the inquiry that design work on the project had not been completed, despite councillors being told at the time that it had.

Ms Hinds said she knew from experience with other projects how important it was for design issues to be settled ahead of signing a contract.

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“It’s absolutely crucial every single design issue is nailed down before you sign the contract. At that time we were given assurances that was the case, but it is clear from documents shown to me in December it was not and only 40 per cent had been completed.”

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Counsel to the inquiry Jonathan Lake QC asked her: “If you had known that in December 2007 what difference would that have made?”

She said: “I would not have been happy to sign a contract.”

She believed most of the Labour group would have taken the same view.

Ms Hinds, who later became the council’s transport convener, was giving evidence on the second day of the inquiry chaired by Lord Hardie into what went wrong with the trams project.

She told how between 2007-11 Labour members - who were in opposition at the time - became frustrated about the lack of information they were given on the project.

She said: “Much of the information ended up on the front page of the Evening News that we had no information for.”

And she said she was shocked to discover from documents being considered by the inquiry that “officers were well aware there was a real problem with the tram project” months before it became clear to councillors.

Ms Hinds said if they had known about the problems at the time they could have put pressure on the administration to deal with the project in a different way.

She described how officials gave them briefings but they did not get all the details they sought.

“We would often just sigh when officers left the room and think ‘We’re not getting all the information’.

“I very clearly remember one officer going to give more information and another officer putting his hand on his arm and saying ‘No, you don’t need to give that’.”

She also criticised the then council leader Jenny Dawe over her handling of the dispute between council company TIE and the main contractors Bilfinger which brought work on Princes Street and elsewhere to a halt for months on end in 2009.

Ms Hinds said: “The leader of the council should have got more involved, taken it by the scruff of the neck and tried to sort this.

“She could have gone to Bilfinger and the other contractors to try to resolve the dispute because it was not being resolved by TIE.

“It maybe that’s undermining TIE but it seemed to go on for months and months with no way forward.

“At the end of the day the leader of the council and the administration should have had a more hands on approach.”