Edinburgh tram inquiry could take up two years

THE public inquiry into the £776 million tram project could take as long as two years to deliver, it has been revealed.

An inquiry into the heavily criticised tram project in Edinburgh could take up to two years. Picture: Ian Rutherford

When announcing the inquiry the Scottish Government lauded the “non-statutory” model as the advantages are that it can be carried out “quickly, efficiently and cost effectively” to ensure that lessons can be learned for the future without “any unnecessary formality.”

However it has now emerged at a recent meeting of the public spending watchdog Accounts Commission for Scotland that it could take years for the answers to emerge as to what went wrong with the delivery of the over-budget route.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Fraser McKinlay, director of performance audit and best value at the Accounts Commission said: “There is no timetable for when Lord Hardie might report his findings but, based on other public inquiries, this might take up to two years.”

First Minister Alex Salmond announced the non-statutory inquiry, led by Lord Hardie, the former judge and Lord Advocate, back in June; such an inquiry relies on witness co-operation rather than compelling evidence.

The timetable exceeds the length of the 2004 inquiry into the controversial Scottish Parliament project, which took only 15 months to report its findings.

By the time it launched this year, the Edinburgh Trams project was £375 million over budget - with a dispute between TIE, the arms-length company in charge, and main contractor Bilfinger Berger at one point bringing work to a standstill. Labour transport spokesman Mark Griffin said: “Serious questions need to be asked about the time this inquiry will take.

“When previous large-scale inquiries have taken far less time, the question has to be asked, why the delay in reporting? We need answers as to what went wrong and we need them quickly.”

A spokesman for the Edinburgh Trams Inquiry said: “There are a number of stages to the actual Inquiry, with each dependent on the previous.

“We are currently in the preliminary investigation stage, which includes retrieving and reviewing documents, scoping the work to be carried out and identifying potential witnesses, as well as securing sufficient staff and technical resources to manage the material.

“Only once this has been completed can a determination be made about when public hearings will be held. Lord Hardie will carry out the inquiry as efficiently as possible in a thorough manner, involving the examination of a large body of evidence.”

Last month it was revealed witnesses could be allowed to give evidence to the inquiry anonymously to encourage whistleblowers to come forward. It is understood that senior Scottish Government solicitor Gordon McNicoll has been named the solicitor to the inquiry while former Treasury solicitor Jane Ferrier is the inquiry’s assistant solicitor.

Premises for future hearings have also been secured at Waverley Gate which lies at the east end of Princes Street.