Trams chief 'quit after boardroom rows'

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THE head of Edinburgh's troubled tram project quit because he lost vital support for a merger with Lothian Buses, a former bus firm chief said yesterday.

• Former chief David Mackay

According to Pilmar Smith, who chaired Lothian Buses until the end of last year, David Mackay stepped down as chairman of both the tram and bus companies because of the "mess" made of combining them.

Mr Mackay has left with immediate effect after describing the tram scheme as "hell on wheels", as The Scotsman revealed yesterday.

Well-placed transport sources claimed he no longer wanted to be associated with a failing project, which is likely to become mired in litigation if the city council terminates the construction contract next month.

Mr Mackay is also thought to have been angered by a lack of support from the city council, which owns Edinburgh Trams, the brand name for tram developers Tie. When council leader Jenny Dawe last month ordered much of the tram business case to be published, against official advice, she said this was "largely because many councillors feel they are maybe being asked to take a lot on the word of officers that they perhaps don't know very well".

Mr Smith said there had been widespread fears about the impact on the company of merging it with the trams.

He told The Scotsman: "There's no doubt in my mind that David Mackay's chairmanship of Lothian Buses was the main reason why he has stood down.

"He appeared to have completely lost the support of the workforce and the board, particularly over the way the merger was being handled.

"I always thought it was a mistake to attempt to merge Lothian Buses with Tie as early as this.

Tie should have been left alone to get on with building the tram lines and leave Lothian Buses to continue running the best bus company in the UK.

"I warned the council before he was appointed chairman that the bus company was a bit fragile and it was important to have continuity over the next couple of years until the tram lines were actually in place, but Tie was so desperate to get full control of Lothian Buses and now they've completely messed it up."

Another insider said that at a Lothian Buses board meeting last month "several board members said they were fed up of the secrecy and dishonesty over the merger of the bus company and Tie and it was made clear that Mr Mackay had a lot to answer for.

"He had also been targeted by the union for having the two roles and it was made clear to him that his role was a huge conflict of interests."

Mr Mackay, who also resigned as chairman of bus-tram co-ordinating body Transport Edinburgh, insisted yesterday he had not become involved in the project for personal glory.He said: "I did not step in for the roar of the crowd or the plaudits, (but] because of my loyalty to this capital city and my passionate belief in the need to integrate trams and buses."

He also made a further thinly- veiled attack on Bilfinger Berger, which leads the construction consortium, despite the group winning many, if not most, of the independent adjudications in the long running dispute.

Mr Mackay said: "They are very good at camouflaging their own incredible inefficiencies."

Edinburgh Pentlands Tory MSP David McLetchie said: "David Mackay's parting comments underline that the relations have completely broken down between Tie and Bilfinger Berger."

City council transport convener Gordon Mackenzie said: "The revised business plan was very well received by the Lothian Buses board."