Edinburgh Trams Project

Scottish Executive Question Time — General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:40 am on 16th September 2010.

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Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour 11:40 am, 16th September 2010

To ask the Scottish Executive what issues it and Transport Scotland raised with the City of Edinburgh Council before handing over each instalment of funding for the Edinburgh trams project. (S3O-11356)

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Monthly progress meetings are held with the City of Edinburgh Council as part of the formal governance arrangements for the project.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

Does the minister accept that there will have to be an inquiry into the tram project in due course, covering problems with the 2008 contract, mismanagement by the council, the extent of any monitoring by the Scottish Government and other matters? Does he agree that there are two more urgent and immediate priorities: first, to drive as hard a bargain as possible with Bilfinger Berger, the company that is holding up the work and is trying to extract as much as possible from the public purse; and secondly, to ensure that the whole line, from the airport to Newhaven, is completed without extra cost to council tax payers, but using, if necessary, innovative funding methods such as tax increment financing, which I suggested in a recent letter to the minister?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

As Mr Chisholm will be aware, I have been making it clear to the City of Edinburgh Council for some considerable time that the Government has offered and continues to offer practical assistance in the development of a tax increment finance proposition for the City of Edinburgh Council. I look forward to continuing discussions with the city council on that.

On resolution of the current disputes with Bilfinger Berger, I assure Mr Chisholm of my insistence with TIE and the City of Edinburgh Council that they must protect the public purse and act to complete the project. That is certainly the approach that is being taken by TIE, and I encourage resolution of the contractual disputes so that the tram project can make progress.

Various inquiries can take place at any stage in the future, but I want to focus attention on the completion of this major capital infrastructure programme for the city of Edinburgh as soon, as effectively and as efficiently as possible.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

A year ago Mr Stevenson answered a question from Mr McKee, stating that he had not had any meetings with the City of Edinburgh Council about trams over the previous year. Can the cabinet secretary tell us how many meetings he and Mr Stevenson have had with the city council, TIE or Bilfinger Berger about the trams since last September to deal with the real difficulties around the project?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am sure that Margaret Smith understands this and is not trying to play petty politics with the question, but the contract exists between TIE and Bilfinger Berger. That contractual relationship must be managed by TIE and supervised by the City of Edinburgh Council—that is where contractual responsibility lies. Of course, the Government has provided funding in relation to the project. A number of meetings have taken place between ministers, the City of Edinburgh Council and TIE in connection with the development and completion of the trams project. That is what ministers have been undertaking. As I have just explained to Mr Chisholm, the focus of those discussions has been to encourage a resolution of the contractual disputes and the completion of the project as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I endorse every last word from my colleague Malcolm Chisholm on the Edinburgh trams project. I remind the cabinet secretary that we are prepared to support the notion of two aircraft carriers, for which there is a very dubious use. We know that a use is marked out—I see Mike Rumbles, who has armed services experience agreeing with me—and there is a use for trams. Indeed, I would like their use to be extended.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I have a question on the matter of an inquiry. Does the cabinet secretary agree that, in an inquiry that will be specialist and detailed, the Auditor General for Scotland will need some specialist buttressing? Perhaps the cabinet secretary might consider that for any future specialist inquiries, as ones such as the forthcoming one on this will be.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I am not sure that it is incumbent on a Government minister to be involved in questions of specialist buttressing for the Auditor General for Scotland. There is a separation of responsibilities between ministers and the Auditor General.

It is absolutely vital to have every focus on resolving the contractual disputes that have affected the trams project. That is what the Government has encouraged. I hope that all parties to the contract will respect and follow the guidance and approach that the Government has given.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Question 4 has been withdrawn.