Trams ‘down to the wire’ as budget almost gone

THE cost of completing the Edinburgh tram project will “go down to the wire”, but should meet the revised budget, senior figures said today.

THE cost of completing the Edinburgh tram project will “go down to the wire”, but should meet the revised budget, senior figures said today.

Transport chiefs have published the latest accounts, revealing that £700 million of £776m has been spent to date, with two-thirds of a contingency fund now used up.

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Management costs relating to delivering the route have run over by £3.3m, but other areas are now under budget and ahead of schedule.

It came as contractors published a new map detailing progress for the first time. Track laying is at an advanced stage in many areas, with significant progress in the city centre and a 1.7-mile stretch in west Edinburgh completed, the document shows.

Contractors have started work on most of the other stops, with only the planned rail/tram interchange at Edinburgh Gateway still at the initial “groundwork” stage.

Meanwhile, accounts 
relating to the project have been published ahead of a meeting of the independent auditing committee at Edinburgh City Council today.

Figures reveal that, as of late December, £700m has been spent from a base budget of £742m. There is also a contingency fund of £34m to soak up unexpected costs, of which £11.1m remains.

One insider told the Evening News: “This is a reasonably good news budget, with costs roughly on target and progress being made on the ground.

“The contingency fund will probably completely go though and there is a concern that there won’t be anything left in the pot towards the end.

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“It may well go right down to the wire and there’s not really any room for manoeuvre. We’ll be adding the pennies up at the end.”

They went on: “If you take the budget for on-street works, for example, it’s getting quite close, but then again we’re nearly finished that work. It looks like they are making good progress and as long as there’s not too much more snow the network may be ready a bit earlier than we thought.”

Despite the improvements, the source said some costs had risen unexpectedly.

They added: “We need to know why the management costs have gone over by £3m-plus. I suspect we’re probably paying a bit too much money on consultants, which we need to look at.

“It was always likely that the contingency fund would be used up, though. You have to think of it as a top-up for things that couldn’t really be costed at the time, rather than an emergency fund that is running out.”

The report to councillors today, written by council chief executive Sue Bruce, states:

• A number of areas of the project are now complete in their entirety on the construction side;

• All land and materials have been paid for;

• Only £1.9m of £87.6m for utilities – which caused huge delays in the past – remains, but almost all diversions have now been dealt with;

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• The Edinburgh Airport to Gogar depot stretch is now complete and testing is under way;

• The depot building is 
complete and all of the tram fleet has been paid for and delivered;

• The majority of groundworks and bridges and other supporting structures along the route have been finished, with most of the track to be laid along the route.

Ms Bruce wrote in her report that work plans had been redrawn so that contractors Siemens, Bilfinger Berger and others could work on multiple sites at one time, instead of going section by section, which had speeded up the project and cut costs.

She said: “As part of last year’s value engineering exercise, agreement was reached with the contractor that multiple site working would be introduced.

“A significant saving has been achieved as a result. In addition, the project is ahead of the revised programme, in certain areas, in part due to such initiatives.

“The project team continue to seek budget savings where possible. This practice is consistent with the value engineering culture that has been established within the project.”

The map, drawn up for the first time to allow the public to measure progress, shows that sections of west Edinburgh are now completed, with the stretch from the Gyle to Edinburgh Park Bridge, in dark blue, at the track-laying stage.

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Sections in light blue detail areas where concrete is being installed beneath where the tracks will be laid. Much of the city centre is now being fitted with poles and overhead lines.

Building the Shandwick Place and York Place tram stops, including the interchange at York Place, are among the last tasks for workers, as is the construction of the Cathedral Substation near Picardy Place.

Jeremy Balfour, an opposition councillor and chair of the auditing committee, said he would ensure that all accounts are scrutinised to ensure taxpayers get value for money.

He said: “The governance, risk and best value committee allows for the greater transparency of projects such as the Edinburgh Trams and makes it easier for people to access more detailed information about the project’s spending. We are committed to providing regular updates and ensuring we achieve the best value for council taxpayers.”

Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s transport leader, said: “The Edinburgh tram project continues to progress well in line with the revised budget and schedule for delivery by summer 2014. The recent risk contingency spend covers elements of work that took place over a 13-month period and we are confident that the remaining funds will cover all future costs. The project team will also continue to identify savings wherever possible.”