Audit Scotland steps in to look at tram project’s finances

By Catherine Mumford

Edinburgh tram construction. Photo courtesy of STV News.

Audit Scotland will be releasing an interim report on the Edinburgh trams in 2011, drawing on audits already carried out by Transport Scotland and City of Edinburgh Council.  The report has been given the go-ahead after a request from the Accounts Commission and Robert Black, the Auditor General of Scotland.

The controversial tram project has been heavily scrutinised by those concerned over the budget, with estimates varying between £545 and £600 million.  The people of Edinburgh are angry over the mounting costs of the construction of the 11.5 mile track.

Some questions will surely be answered as the the Edinbrugh City council said the report will focus on the project’s progress, as well as, costs and chief issues to date.  Lothians MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville said “Despite giving the tram project a clean bill of health in 2007, I am pleased Audit Scotland has finally decided to review the project.”

Though tensions have been high, given the recent fallout with the contracting company Berlinger Berger, Edinburgh Trams said it does not oppose the look into the project’s finances.  Somerville warned that any efforts to hide problems or attempts by those involved to needlessly extend or delay the report will not be tolerated.  Transport Scotland commented they will be fully assisting Audit Scotland in their inquiry.

There have been several ideas put forward about how the money could be better spent.  Local cycling activist Chris Hill said “I wish Edinburgh had a tram system, but I think the money so far spent would have been better used to re-open the South Sub and also create a genuinely ‘cycle/pedestrian friendly’ city.”  The aim of being green was at the forefront of the tram proposal, but noone can argue that nothing is more green than riding a bycyle.

According to a Bike Station/Sustrans survey in Edinburgh, people cited fear of traffic and route uncertainty among their top reasons of why they choose not to cycle to work.  Current Scottish government bike accident statistics confirm that Edinburgh’s city center shows a high proportion of accidents compared to the number of residents.  Accoding to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, 90% of all cycle accidents occur in urban areas.  They list cycle route networks and speed management schemes among the measures that can help reduce the risk to cyclists.  If money were redirected to making the city more cycle-friendly, the abovementioned concerns  could be addressed.     

Support of the tram project has long been waning, especially as it is following off the back of the Scottish Parliament building which also exceeded its spending plan.  The report will shed light on what has gone wrong sa far and what the plans are for the future.