Tram project to lose its third chief executive

EDINBURGH's tram firm chief executive is expected to receive a near six-figure pay-off after confirming he is to quit the controversial project.

Richard Jeffrey will leave Tie (the former Transport Initiatives Edinburgh) next month.

He has been effectively sidelined in peace talks to solve the dispute with contractors, which has stalled construction work.

He is expected to depart with up to a year's salary, said to be 155,000, plus other benefits.

Mr Jeffrey will also step down as chief executive of the tram-bus co-ordinating body, Transport Edinburgh.

Tram project director Steven Bell will take over temporarily after Mr Jeffrey leaves on 8 June until a decision is taken on whether to appoint a new chief executive as part of a shake-up of the firm's management.

The moves come as the fate of the project hangs in the balance, with the city council desperately seeking an extra 200 million to enable part of the route to be completed - between Edinburgh airport and St Andrew Square.

The Scotsman understands the SNP Scottish Government remains keen that at least some of the line is finished, despite repeating publicly that it will not add to the 500m pledged by a previous Labour-Liberal Democrat administration.

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Mr Jeffrey, who joined in April 2009, is Tie's third chief to resign in five years, and rumours of his imminent departure were circulating widely more than a week ago.

Tram sources said the writing had been on the wall for Mr Jeffrey since Tie chairman David Mackay's surprise exit last November, calling parts of the project "hell on wheels". They jointly took a hard-line approach in the bitter two-year row with the construction consortium led by the German firm Bilfinger Berger.

However, the city council changed tack in January, with incoming council chief executive Sue Bruce and Vic Emery, who replaced Mr Mackay as Tie chairman, taking a more conciliatory line after losing a series of independent adjudications on aspects of the dispute.

Mediation talks have recently shown signs of progress.

Mr Emery is also said to have had differences over management style with Mr Jeffrey who was absent at last week's council announcement about progress in the mediation talks.

Mr Emery said then that the chief executive was "back in the office doing some work for me", but remained part of the project.

Anti-tram MSPs welcomed Mr Jeffrey's departure. Colin Keir, SNP Edinburgh West, said: "Richard Jeffrey was supposed to turn the tram project around and instead it simply stalled. "It is right that those responsible for the problems of the last few years remove themselves from the future of the organisation."

Edinburgh Central SNP MSP Marco Biagi said Mr Jeffrey must take responsibility for Audit Scotland's "highly critical" review of the project in February.

He said: "Instead of getting a grip on the tram system, Tie's senior management simply crossed their fingers and hoped more money would appear."

However, Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said: "The next chief executive will have a fresh start on this project, and their job must be to bring the trams to St Andrew Square at the very least.

"The problems facing the project aren't the fault of any one person. It is time for politicians to drop the blame game and unite behind the project to see it finished."

Lothians Conservative MSP David McLetchie said: "The tram fiasco has lurched from one disaster to another. Just recently, it was suggested that Princes Street has to be dug up again and now the man who was supposed to bring some order to proceedings, has resigned. The citizens and taxpayers of our capital city deserve so much better."

In a terse comment yesterday, Ms Bruce said: "Richard has been an integral part of the process of bringing the tram negotiations to where we are now. I would like to wish Richard all the very best for the future."

Mr Emery said Mr Jeffrey "has been an energetic force during his time on the project". He added: "He has seen the organisation through a particularly challenging period. I would personally like to pay tribute to his determination, integrity and resilience during his time here with Tie."

Mr Emery went on: "The organisation will continue as before for the current time. We are working closely with the City of Edinburgh Council, and there is a great deal of work ongoing in terms of moving forward the different work streams agreed from the mediation in March.

"Early last week, we announced the priority works and the repairs to Princes Street, and our focus continues to be pressing ahead with the next stage."

Mr Jeffrey said: "Following the mediation earlier this year, I believe now is the optimum time to move on and allow the project to proceed to the next stage.

"I remain convinced that trams are part of the solution for future generations, and I look forward to travelling on the city's trams."

The project, whose cost has been capped at 600m by the council, has already spent 440m of its budget. The city council estimates it needs around 200m to open the line as far east as St Andrew Square, with a tram turn-back in York Place.It is pinning its hopes on finding the extra funding required, such as being given new borrowing powers by the Scottish Government. Councillors are expected to be asked to decide on options on 30 June, including pressing ahead or pulling the plug on the project.

Finance secretary John Swinney is said to be privately keen that at least some of the tram line is completed. He said last year: "I want to focus attention on the completion of this major capital infrastructure programme as soon, as effectively and as efficiently as possible."