Accountability concerns arise in Edinburgh trams project report

Photo by Kate Bielinski on Unsplash

A recent report on the Edinburgh Trams project has raised questions about accountability, particularly within the Scottish Government. The report, published in September, highlighted the mismanagement and cost overruns of the project, totaling £835.7 million after accounting for borrowing costs, compensation, outstanding claims, and other items. 

Former deputy first minister John Swinney was prominently mentioned in the report, being cited 156 times, but was notably absent from Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity of Scotland Mairi McAllan’s response. The report indicated that decisions made by Swinney and then-transport minister Stewart Stevenson adversely impacted the project. Specifically, Swinney’s order to scale back Transport Scotland’s involvement in 2007 left crucial expertise out of the decision-making process, allowing Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE) and Edinburgh City Council (CEC) to take control and incur avoidable costs.

McAllan defended the decision, stating that clarifying governance boundaries prevented further financial demands on the public purse. She argued that the clarity in roles limited the government’s funding commitment to the agreed £500 million. McAllan stated, “Failure to clarify the role of Transport Scotland would have been an abdication of leadership and would have led to poor governance and confusion around roles.”

However, critics, including Scottish Tory MSP Miles Briggs, voiced concerns over the lack of accountability within the government. Briggs emphasized the report’s findings, stating that the decision to withdraw Transport Scotland was a serious error, which no one in the Scottish Government had taken responsibility for. Briggs asserted, “The Cabinet Secretary should now accept that the decision to withdraw Transport Scotland was a serious error. Yet no one in the Scottish Government has taken responsibility for that failure.”

The report’s conclusions raise important questions about leadership, decision-making processes, and accountability within the Scottish Government. As discussions continue, it is crucial for stakeholders to address these concerns and work towards better transparency and responsibility in future projects.

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