I was reading Steve Bargeton’s political diary in the Dundee Courier where I noted with interest his summation of the Edinburgh tram fiasco. I was rather amused because I had also been reading Kezia Dugdale’s blog on the same subject. It seems that the cost and time overruns are going to be monumental.
If we all remember correctly it was the SNP’s manifesto pledge to cancel this great white elephant: a pledge that they tried to implement after their election in May 2007. The opposition parties and Margo MacDonald cried foul. Labour, smarting from the bloody nose that they had just received from the Scottish electorate, were determined to embarrass the new First Minister and so they concerted a campaign to keep the project alive and whipped up a media furore full of deprived people of Edinburgh, etc, etc.
They succeeded in getting the project passed with only the SNP saying that they would rue the day. John Swinney said ‘fine, have your trams but we will have Audit Scotland look at the business plan’. They did and AS said that the plans were robust. So the Scottish Government were forced to give the scheme the required £500 million (one sixtieth of the entire Scottish budget for a year) with the proviso that the City of Edinburgh would have to make up any shortfall.
I am assuming that the Labour administration in Edinburgh up to May 2007 had wanted the project to go ahead and it seemed that the new Lib Dem/SNP one did as well, as they all voted for it.
It seems clear to me that the SNP’s manifesto pledge was based on the fact that the scheme was not a very good one. It benefits only a potential 17% of Edinburgh’s residents and simply replaces a bus route running through the streets and all that for 545 million quid. That does not seem like good value for money to me, you could have got a lot of extra busses for that.
Now as is witnessed on Ms Dugdale’s blog the Labour party, and I suppose the other Unionistas who voted for it, are looking for someone to blame now that cost are overrunning to the tune of £100 million and we won’t see a tram for 30 extra months, until 2014.
Guess who they are hoping to pin the blame on? You got it: the SNP, and why? Because apparently the SNP voted for it in Edinburgh City Hall... and so they must be to blame as they are in power now. How much ground work was done prior to 2007? Well, it goes all the way back to the time of the Great Helmsman in 1999 when a plan to build a line along Princes Street and Leith Walk to Newhaven pier was unveiled by Edinburgh City Council, Lothian and Edinburgh Enterprise and the New Edinburgh Tramways Company (NET). In May 2004, the 15-year operating contract for Edinburgh Trams was awarded to Transdev. Trading as Transdev Edinburgh Tram Ltd, the transport company was to operate and maintain the tram network, and support the project planning.
And finally the bill was passed by the Labour/Lib Dem Executive in 2006.The audit Scotland report did pass the scheme as financially sound in 2007 but it was not, as Ms Dugdale claims, on time at that point, because it was not until 25 October, 2007 that Edinburgh City Council gave approval to the final business case.
Approval was given by the Council on 22 December, 2007 for TIE to sign contracts with CAF for the supply of the vehicles and BBS (a consortium of Siemens and Bilfinger Berger) for the design, construction and building of the network. Contract negotiations were concluded in April 2008 with construction of the network commencing in June 2008. So not a sod was actually turned until 2008.
Mr Bargeton’s article lays the blame for this fiasco solely with the Unionist parties and Margo MacDonald. However, I am prepared to say that some should indeed lie with the SNP. Not with the SNP Government that never wanted this appalling fiasco to take place in the first place but with the SNP group in Edinburgh for jumping into bed with the Lib Dems in order to get their hands on the keys to the city chambers.
An alliance between Unionists and Nationalist just does not seem to work. It did not in Aberdeen and it does not in Edinburgh. All that it allows is for people like Kezia Dugdale to blame the SNP for everything.