Edinburgh councillors were 'out-of-their depth' on tram contract

11 Oct 11
Councillors in charge of Edinburgh’s ill-fated trams project were unqualified for the role and out of their depth in dealing with contractors, the city's transport convener has admitted.
By Keith Aitken in Edinburgh | 11 October 2011

Councillors in charge of Edinburgh’s ill-fated trams project were unqualified for the role and out of their depth in dealing with contractors, the city’s transport convener has admitted.

In a BBC documentary to be screened in Scotland tonight, transport convener Gordon Mackenzie acknowledges that he and the other councillors appointed to Transport Initiatives Edinburgh’s supervisory board lacked ‘the technical expertise that a project like this requires’.

He says: ‘I have a social work background, others have electronics and banking management, that sort of thing – we were not people who had previously had experience of major projects like this. We didn’t have legal expertise, for example.’

Protracted logistical delays and legal disputes have dogged the tram project, to the extent that it is now expected to be at least three years late, cost twice the projected total, and provide less than a third of the network originally planned.

Transport Initiatives Edinburgh, the arm’s-length company set up by the council to oversee the project, has now been wound up.

The BBC programme, The Great Tram Disaster, also includes contributions from the chair of Bilfinger Berger Civil, the project’s main contractor. Jochen Keysberg has been freed from a confidentiality clause and is able to discuss the project publicly for the first time.

He tells the programme makers that he and his colleagues had never come across anything quite like the Edinburgh chaos.

The contractors arrived expecting to find that underground utilities had already been removed from the tram routes but TIE had read the contract ‘completely differently’, he says. This was contrary to TIE promises, he claims, and had the effect of shifting risk from TIE to the contractors, a shift reflected in neither the terms nor the price of the contract.

At the weekend, Finance Secretary John Swinney claimed to have been ‘fundamentally misled’ by TIE and said the company had told him ‘absolute rubbish’ about progress on the contract.
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