A ‘litany of avoidable failures’ by those leading the Edinburgh’s tram project led to it being massively over-budget and five years late, the chairman of an inquiry has found.
The inquiry was set up in 2014 to examine why the scheme went significantly over-budget as well as dropping one of the two initial planned lines and being delivered years later than first planned.
The cost of the reduced line from Edinburgh Airport to York Place was thought to be £776 million – more than double the initial sum earmarked at the outset by the Scottish Parliament’s then Labour-led administration – but the report found the best estimate is now £835.7 million after borrowing costs, compensation, outstanding claims and other items were fully factored in.
Retired judge Lord Hardie, who chaired the inquiry, said: ‘The inquiry process has been thorough and robust, but also complex, with literally millions of documents that had to be carefully reviewed and detailed contractual issues to investigate.
‘This work has been time-consuming but necessary to produce a report which not only provides answers to what went wrong with the Edinburgh Trams project, but also clear recommendations for future transport projects.
The 8.7 mile tram route from Edinburgh Airport to the city centre was five years late
‘What is clear from the inquiry’s work is that there was a litany of avoidable failures on the parts of several parties whose role it was to ensure that public funding was spent effectively and to the benefit of Scotland’s taxpayers, and that the Edinburgh Trams project was delivered efficiently.
‘Poor management and abdication of responsibility on a large scale have had a significant and lasting impact on the lives and livelihoods of Edinburgh residents, and the reputation of the city.’
The inquiry was established in June 2014 to find out why the project was £400m over budget and five years late.
The 8.7 mile route from Edinburgh airport to the city centre opened in 2014.
In a video statement on the report, he holds Edinburgh City Council’s arm’s-length tram company TIE, the council and Scottish ministers ‘principally responsible for the failure to deliver the project on time, within budget and to the extent projected’.
Scottish Conservative MSP for Lothians region Miles Briggs said: ‘Lord Hardie’s report is a scathing critique of the SNP Government and City of Edinburgh Council’s roles in a national scandal.
‘After years of delays and millions of pounds of public money, we at last have some conclusions on the appalling mishandling of Edinburgh’s tram network.
‘Lord Hardie is highly critical of councillors and the arms-length bodies responsible for the project – but he also singles out Scottish government for criticism.
‘He is clear that ministers failed to protect the public purse and acted in the SNP’s political interests, rather than the public interest. John Swinney, especially, has questions to answer for removing safeguards that would have protected grant funds.
‘The SNP government must now respond to this damning indictment of a fiasco that dragged on for more than a decade, and resulted in huge avoidable costs to the Scottish taxpayer.’
Work continues on the Edinburgh tram project on Princes Street in 2009
Lord Hardie chaired the inquiry
He makes 24 recommendations for Scottish ministers, including considering whether there is a requirement for new legislation to allow for civil and criminal sanctions against relevant individuals or companies who knowingly submit reports that include false statements to councillors.
The cost of and time taken by the inquiry itself has become a focus for criticism.
When he set it up almost a decade ago, days after the trams started finally started running three years later than planned, then first minister Alex Salmond told MSPs he expected it to be ‘swift and thorough’.
Public hearings began in 2017 and concluded the following year, with the report published on Tuesday sent to the printers in April.
Cabinet Secretary for Transport Mairi McAllan said: ‘The Scottish Government places the highest importance on the efficient spending of public money. It is why the Public Inquiry was set up and given statutory powers to thoroughly investigate matters.
‘It is also why we committed significant resources to diligently support the Inquiry and to engage meaningfully and openly with it.
‘However, the inquiry took too long, was too costly and in some instances the evidence heard does not support the conclusion drawn.
“Clearly all organisations and individuals who gave evidence to the Inquiry, including the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland who have just received the report, must take our time to consider the detail and the recommendations. Having done that I will provide a more comprehensive response to Parliament, and respond to Members’ questions, in due course.”