By Bill Heaney
Scotland must have a large number of the most inefficient and incompetent politicians and public servants in Europe. No other country has racked up as many bourachs and lost as much public money as have the men and women who run our local authorities, health boards and the Scottish government, which was a financial disaster from day one in regard to overspending for the Holyrood parliament building itself.
For the past 24 years they have been throwing good money after bad, leaving desperately short of money for investment devolved Scotland too poor to afford basic services such as the NHS, transport , social work and education. No political party or leading civil servant can absolve themselves completely from blame for what has shamefully happened on their watch.
The cost of the crumbling concrete scandal in schools, hospitals and public buildings is escalating exponentially and will run into many £millions of pounds which will have to be borrowed at extortionate interest rates.
And just this morning it was revealed by a senior judge that the true cost of the Edinburgh’s delayed, over-budget and limited tram scheme was understated to be more than £230 million.
Lord Hardie accused City of Edinburgh Council, the local authority’s trams firm and Scottish ministers of ‘abdicating responsibility on a large scale’ over the delayed project.
The report also reveals a cover-up involving the cost of items spent on the trams contract being charged against the accounts of other companies for work they didn’t do.
Lord Hardie, accused those in charge of “abdicating responsibility on a large scale” over the contentious light rail network.
He recommended ministers consider new legislation allowing for civil or criminal action to be brought against those who knowingly submit reports that include false statements to councillors.
In an excoriating 955-page report, Lord Hardie said City of Edinburgh Council, its arms-length tram firm TIE (Transport Initiatives Edinburgh) and Scottish ministers were at fault for a “significant and lasting impact on the lives and livelihoods of Edinburgh residents, and the reputation of the city”.
The probe – set up to establish why the project was £400 million over budget, shorter than originally planned and delivered five years late – has been the subject of national scrutiny due to long delays over its publication.
Public hearings concluded in 2018, but the report was only sent to be printed in May this year having cost the taxpayer more than £13 million.
He accused TIE of “mismanagement,” stating the company “played a significant role in the failure to deliver the project on time and within budget and to the extent projected.”
A row between the firm and the companies charged with building the line resulted in the parties going to mediation and resulted in the local authority handing out a £66 million compensation payment.
Former Edinburgh Trams chairman David Mackay branded the scheme “hell on wheels” after quitting his post in 2010.
Lord Hardie said warning letters had been sent to those criticised in the report last year in order to give them a right to reply.
The 8.5-mile track between Edinburgh Airport and York Place opened in 2014 at an initially stated cost of £776 million and took seven years to complete.
However, it was shorter than the initial two-line plan that would have encompassed Granton, Newhaven and Roseburn as proposed by the Labour-led Scottish Government in 2003.
It was only meant to cost £375 million under those blueprints, though was at risk of being scrapped when the SNP came to power in 2007, only for that to be overturned by opponents at Holyrood.
However, Lord Hardie said the reported cost was an understatement because the local authority allocated costs to other budgets that truly related to the project and failed to include the net present value of borrowing £231 million to complete the restricted line.
There was also a substantial claim by a landowner of which there had been no awareness at the date of the reported cost.
It means the best estimate of the initial tram project – which began running in 2014 – is around £835.7 million.
A second arm of the network, connecting York Place with Newhaven via Leith Walk, opened earlier this year having been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic at a cost of £207 million.
Lord Hardie said: “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.”
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.
Conservative MSP Miles Briggs and then Deputy First Minister John Swinney.
“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.”
Top picture: Lord Hardie – accused those in charge of “abdicating responsibility on a large scale.”
More to follow later today …