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Edinburgh trams need clear way ahead and review of key players

A new report has said a clear way ahead for the Edinburgh trams project needs to be established, and the Scottish government should consider whether its agency Transport Scotland should become more actively involved.

The Scottish government should intervene in Edinburgh’s tram works because the project risks collapse, according to the Audit Scotland report on the project’s progress, costs to date and its governance arrangements.

Accounts Commission chair John Baillie said: “Mediation talks between the City of Edinburgh Council, Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (tie) and the Bilfinger Berger Siemens consortium are due to take place soon.

“Public finances are tight and it is crucial that any solution must represent value for money.”

Accounts Commission chair John Baillie

“It is important that these talks are pursued and that all other choices including the consequences of terminating the contract are fully considered and evaluated. Public finances are tight and it is crucial that any solution must represent value for money.”

Audit Scotland also said tie no longer has the skills and experience to ensure the work is successfully completed, especially after several staff quit recently.

Baillie said: “Communication about the trams project could also be better. Public confidence in the project is extremely low. The City of Edinburgh Council and tie urgently need to better explain to the public how this complex project is progressing.”

The report says that most areas of the project have progressed significantly since work began in 2007. Utilities diversion works are 97% complete and almost three quarters of the tram vehicles have been built.

However, due to the contractual dispute only 28% of infrastructure work has been completed against a target of 99%by the end of December 2010.

“Communication about the trams project could also be better. Public confidence in the project is extremely low.”

Accounts Commission chair John Baillie

So far, £402M has been spent on Phase 1a, which is intended to run from Edinburgh Airport to Leith Waterfront. This is 74% of the total funding currently available.

Until the contractual dispute is resolved the total cost of completing the line cannot be accurately estimated, although it is clear that it will not be completed within the £545M approved budget.

The Scottish government is providing £500M of the project’s funding through its agency, Transport Scotland. Transport Scotland monitors the way this money is spent through regular meetings with the City of Edinburgh Council, but the report says the Scottish Government should consider expanding its future involvement.

Auditor general for Scotland Robert Black said: “Transport Scotland has committed £500M to the trams project. Given this significant interest and its expertise in managing major transport projects the Scottish government needs to consider whether it should become more actively involved to help avoid possible further delays and cost overruns.”

He continued: “It is very unusual to conduct an audit of a live project but the Accounts Commission and I decided that an interim report was needed because of the public concern and the risks associated with the project.”

The project’s chairman David Mackay announced in November he was taking early retirement and stood down immediately.

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