Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Playing politics

Posted in Business, Great Britain, Infrastructure, Metro, Politics by Chairman Pip on 12 October 2011

Having just seen the edition of BBC Scotland Investigates looking at the debacle that is Edinburgh Trams, I have to say that I am somewhat astonished by what the programme says about the project, about the parties involved, and just what has gone wrong. The fact that utilities work, which was supposed to be finished by the end of 2008 to allow construction to begin, is still going on is bad enough. The fact that there was constant battles over the contract between Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE), the company set up by Edinburgh Council to run the project, and Bilfinger Berger, the majority partner in the construction consortium, is also poor. But what got me was listening to John Swinney, the Finance Minister in the Scottish Government. He spoke about the reasons why, as time went on and more money was poured into the project, the Scottish Government didn’t step in. In spite of him saying that, based on his experience on the upgrade of the M80 in which Bilfinger Berger was the lead contractor, working with the company was a pleasant experience, he accepted “in good faith” what TIE was telling him about the contractor and decided not to make an intervention. If this was against what his own experience told him, why did he not say something? Why did he and his colleague the Infrastructure Minister not insist on some form of representation from Transport Scotland in the project in return for maintaining funding, given that most of the money to build the thing is coming from the Scottish Government? One doesn’t like to suggest that Mr Swinney has been playing politics with public money, but the fact that, of the four main parties in Scotland, the SNP was the only one against the project from the outset might lead one to assume that they have seen this as an opportunity to further rubbish the unionist parties – “look at what the unionists have done, they’ve lumbered you with a billion pound bill and now we nationalists are swooping in to rescue it and try our best to save you as much as we can”. Why didn’t they act when the cost was estimated at £545m, and are only now coming in when it stands at £750m? While I still maintain that the tram network is a perfectly sound idea (especially as it has worked in so many other cities in the UK), pretty much everyone comes out of this particular one fairly well covered in a load of shit.

“Edinburgh Trams: Half a line at double the cost”
“Edinburgh tram councillor ‘did not have skills'”
“Assurances from tram firm were rubbish, says Swinney”
“Edinburgh trams: Ministers to help finish project”

The Edinburgh Tram fiasco rumbles on

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