Swinney 'would not change actions' during controversial tram project

23 January 2018, 14:26 | Updated: 23 January 2018, 14:27

Edinburgh Tram

Deputy First Minister John Swinney would not change any of his decisions over the controversial Edinburgh trams project if he had the chance, an inquiry has heard.

Speaking at the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry, the then Finance Secretary said he was "satisfied" with his actions throughout the course of the scheme.

He admitted the decision to proceed with funding the project was made after a "frustrating" parliamentary vote to back it in 2007, because he did not want the minority SNP Government to be "curtailed by a trams project".

The probe, chaired by retired judge Lord Hardie, is examining why the scheme went significantly over-budget and delivered years later than first planned.

Mr Swinney said: "I'm satisfied that the actions I took were appropriate for the office I had.

"There may have been minor transactional points which might have been done differently, there may have been issues which we could have expedited differently."

Jonathan Lake QC, senior counsel to the inquiry, then questioned if he was "happy" with his his actions, to which the Deputy First Minister said he was.

The Scottish Parliament voted in June 2007 to pursue the trams project, despite the SNP minority government setting out its opposition to it.

Mr Swinney said the political landscape led his party to agree to deliver a £500 million grant.

He said: "We had been six weeks in office and it was clear we weren't going to change parliament's mind.

"We were concerned that there could have been some possibility the administration could have come under a challenge about staying in office.

"We didn't want the first SNP government in 70 years to be curtailed by a trams project."

The inquiry heard he asked Transport Scotland to "scale back" its involvement with the scheme to reduce the risk of the Scottish public purse being dipped into to fund it.

Mr Swinney said he was trying to clarify that responsibility lay with the City of Edinburgh Council, which was the "promoter" of the project.

He added: "I have been around long enough to know people can come back asking for more."

The eventual £776 million bill was more than double the sum earmarked at the outset by a previous Labour-led administration.

The inquiry in Edinburgh continues.