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by Staff reporter
20 September 2023
John Swinney urged to explain role in Edinburgh trams fiasco

John Swinney was finance secretary when several key decisions were taken

John Swinney urged to explain role in Edinburgh trams fiasco

The Scottish Conservatives have urged former Deputy First Minister John Swinney to make a statement to parliament about his role in the bungled Edinburgh Trams project.

The report from the public inquiry into the project was published yesterday, which concluded there had been an “abdication of responsibility” on the part of Scottish ministers to ensure funding was appropriately spent.

Swinney, who was finance secretary at the time, was criticised for the decision to “scale back” the involvement of Transport Scotland officials in the project which resulted in a “loss of expertise”.

Lord Hardie, who chaired the inquiry, said Swinney had later realised this was a mistake and became involved himself. Hardie added: “Such intervention would not have been necessary had Scottish ministers allowed officials to undertake their normal role in major transport projects that were in receipt of substantial grant funding.”

Now Tory MSP Miles Briggs has written to Swinney, saying the former cabinet secretary had “serious questions to answer”.

Briggs wrote: “You were Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth through much of the time relevant to this inquiry’s findings, and you are assigned significant culpability for the project’s failings… We need to know, in your words, how you allowed these failures, both systematic and personal, to go on.”

Swinney resigned from the Scottish Government earlier this year following Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to stand down as first minister. He had been in Cabinet continuously since 2007.

Backbench MSPs are able to make a personal statement to parliament through a rarely-used parliamentary rule, at the discretion of the presiding officer.

The Edinburgh tram project came under significant fire following several delays and going well over budget. The full cost of the Edinburgh Airport to Newhaven route exceeded £1bn, almost double the £545m first antipated. 

The inquiry put the “best estimate” for the airport-city centre phase of the project at £835.7m. The extension out to Newhaven was only finished earlier this year after that part of the route was removed from the first phase.

The SNP attempted to scrap the project after entering minority government in 2007 but was prevented from doing so by opposition parties.

Former First Minister Alex Salmond established the public inquiry in 2014, but that itself has been subject to criticism for taking so long to complete and costing taxpayers £13m.

Responding on behalf of the government, transport secretary Mairi McAllan rejected some of its conclusions. She said: “The inquiry took too long, was too costly and in some instances the evidence heard does not support the conclusion drawn.”

McAllan will make a statement to parliament on the matter in the coming weeks.

The SNP has been contacted for comment.

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