Councils should not take on large public procurement projects like a city’s tram network, according to Edinburgh’s former transport convenor.
Giving evidence to the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry, Gordon Mackenzie, a former councillor and member of the Tram Project Board, said the situation created too many opportunities for commercially sensitive information to be leaked, which may cost the public more.
“I do not think that a political body, such as a council, should take these types of projects forward; it creates too many opportunities for division and divulging information, which may disadvantage the public purse,” he said.
The inquiry, headed by Lord Hardie, is examining why the city’s tram system was delivered years late and why the project was £400m over budget and mired in legal dispute.
Mackenzie said when the trams project began to go wrong, political parties within the City of Edinburgh Council used the problems to their political advantage rather than acting in the best interest overall.
“It created difficulties in terms of conflicts of interest, which we felt that we were managing at that time, but didn’t generate sufficient benefit to offset the potential conflict,” he said.
“It would have been more sensible that councillors were not involved in those boards.”
Mackenzie suggested the national transport agency should be in charge, backed by the Scottish government, as they had more power, experience and financial muscle.
Responding to the inquiry, Lesley Macinnes, the current transport convener, said he welcomed any recommendations that would benefit local authorities in terms of commissioning and carrying out major infrastructure projects.
“It is important to us that we have taken into account experience from the previous project, which is being incorporated into our plans for the proposed new line to Newhaven,” he said.
“Edinburgh is growing city, which needs an integrated transport system, delivered both effectively and efficiently, and we will continue to co-ordinate fully with Lord Hardie and his team.”
The comments come after the council issued two contract tenders for work to build a £162m extension to Leith and Newhaven, north of the city, last week.
The Swept Path contract, valued at £25m, will cover utility diversions to clear the route for main track and civil works. The £90m main Infrastructure and Systems contract, will include 4.6km of track, eight new tram stops, two substations, bridge works and demolition of the York Place tram stop.