Public inquiry will examine Edinburgh trams fiasco

A PUBLIC inquiry will be held into the Edinburgh trams project, the First Minister Alex Salmond has announced.
Edinburgh tram works at Haymarket in March 2013. Picture: TSPLEdinburgh tram works at Haymarket in March 2013. Picture: TSPL
Edinburgh tram works at Haymarket in March 2013. Picture: TSPL

Alex Salmond told the Scottish Parliament yesterday that a judge will lead the probe into the delivery of the over-budget route.

The move comes after the £776 million line was launched on Saturday following a three-year delay and widespread disruption throughout the capital while works were ongoing.

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The inquiry is likely to hear evidence from local politicians, officials on the controversial delivery firm Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE) and the German contractors whose dispute with city officials brought work to a halt.

However, it will be unable to compel anyone to give evidence.

The First Minister told MSPs yesterday a judge would be ­appointed to chair the “non-statutory” inquiry, but he gave no indication as to when it would start.

Transport minister Keith Brown will announce the “conduct” of the inquiry before the Scottish Parliament’s summer recess in three weeks.

The probe will be of the same kind as was held into the Holyrood building project, which opened five months after it was announced in 2003.

The 8.5-mile line, which runs from Edinburgh Airport to St Andrew Square in the city centre, is far shorter than originally planned. An entire section running to Leith and Newhaven on the coast was shelved.

Sources close to the project said the inquiry was likely to focus on the contract agreed between former city council tram firm TIE and the construction consortium. It is also likely to examine the subsequent lengthy dispute between them.

These two areas are seen as being responsible for the project’s biggest problems, with the council paying the contractors at least £66m to settle the wrangle, following mediation.

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However, the tram scheme also suffered major problems during preliminary work to move ageing utility pipes and cables from the route, with far more having to be replaced than planned.

The Scotsman understands the construction firms, Bilfinger Berger and Siemens, are keen to finally put their side of the story at an inquiry, having being barred from speaking publicly during the project.

Several former TIE staff are also said to be keen to air their views. Some specifically had a clause included in their leaving contracts which permitted them to take part in any inquiry.

However, other staff, including senior officials at TIE, are believed to have signed contracts that prevented them discussing the project after quitting.

Key figures in the saga which the inquiry judge is likely to call to give evidence include Willie Gallagher, who was executive chairman of TIE from 2006-8, when the construction contract was signed, and David Mackay, who resigned as TIE chairman in 2010. He dubbed Bilfinger Berger a “delinquent” contractor and the project “hell on wheels”.

Others include Richard Jeffrey, who was TIE chief executive from 2009-11, including during the dispute.

He said yesterday he would be prepared to appear at the inquiry. He said: “What I have to say I will say at an ­inquiry and not before.”

Politicians who may be called include Liberal Democrat Jenny Dawe, who was city council leader during the dispute, and councillors on the TIE board.

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However, the role of the Scottish Government is also likely to be scrutinised. It was accused of distancing itself from the project.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The advantages of a non-statutory inquiry 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.”

Andrew Burns, who leads the city council’s ruling Labour-SNP coalition, said: “The council will co-operate fully in the process, providing any material or information that the Scottish Government require.”

But the Lib Dems and the Tories expressed doubt that the ­inquiry would be effective without legal powers to compel ­witnesses to appear.