Edinburgh Council 'Deliberately Misled' Over Trams

7 September 2017, 14:22 | Updated: 7 September 2017, 16:10

A tram on Edinburgh's York Place

Key Edinburgh City Council figures were deliberately prevented from having the information they needed to make decisions about the city's trams project, a former council leader has told an inquiry.

Donald Anderson said Tie (Transport Initiatives Edinburgh), the arms-length company tasked with handling the project, presented "deliberate misinformation" to the council, giving elected members the wrong impression about how the project was proceeding.

As a result, some of the "very significant problems" associated with the delivery of the scheme were hidden from councillors, he claimed.

Mr Anderson, who led the council from 1999 to 2006, was giving evidence on the second day of the public hearing for the official inquiry into the capital's troubled trams project.

The probe, chaired by Lord Hardie, is examining why the project went significantly over-budget and was delivered years later than originally planned.

Mr Anderson told the inquiry: "I think it's clear from the documentation I've now seen ... that there was a deliberate, if not campaign, a deliberate co-ordinated series of actions to prevent key figures on the council from having accurate and important information in order to take the decisions that they needed to take in relation to the trams project.

"I think it's inconceivable that if Transport Scotland had been at the table Tie would have been able to behave in that way."

He went on: "There was an organised attempt to prevent elected members in Edinburgh from having important information on which to base their decisions about how the tram project was delivered and a lot of the very significant problems associated with the delivery of the trams project were hidden from elected members."

Asked to expand on his answer by Jonathan Lake QC, senior counsel to the inquiry, he said: "If you haven't progressed the design work and you say you have, that is a deliberate statement, that is misinformation that is being conveyed from Tie to the council.

"If you lose adjudications and you present them as being successes, that's deliberate misinformation being presented to the council, that gives the elected members the wrong impression of how the project is proceeding and makes it almost impossible for them to take legitimate decisions."

Mr Anderson told how he was happy with company during period when he was leader but that it went on to "develop a life of its own" with elected members and officers not exercising sufficient control over Tie.

"I think you would expect senior elected members and senior officers of the council to be clear what they expected Tie to do in terms of meeting performance aspirations and be clear and honest in terms of the information they presented to the council," he said.

"I think there were significant failures in that regard from the period in which the tram project was signed off by the Scottish Parliament and began to be implemented."

Earlier, Lesley Hinds, a former transport convener at the council, told the inquiry she was shocked to discover officials were aware of problems with the trams project months before they became known to councillors.

She told of her frustration - and that of her Labour colleagues - over the amount of information available to them about the scheme during their time in opposition and said they eventually "lost trust" in the information being provided to them.

Referring to the period between 2007 and 2011, she said: "When I was interviewed, there was many documents and emails that I'd never seen before and, certainly, I was quite shocked to discover officers were well aware there was a real problem with the trams project months and months before it ever became clear to us, myself as an individual, but also the Labour group."

She also criticised what she described as a lack of political leadership from the council administration when a high-profile dispute with contractors ground work on the streets of the capital to a halt in 2009.

Ms Hinds said the then Liberal Democrat council leader Jenny Dawe "should have got more involved" and taken the issue "by the scruff of the neck".

The eventual cost of the trams project at £776 million was more than double the sum earmarked at the outset.

The inquiry continues.