John Swinney to Lord Hardie:  ‘Ouchy Ouchy …’

The Edinburgh Tram[s] Inquiry

In amongst the flurry of interest caused by the publication of the [ a very long 960 single spaced pages] ‘Edinburgh Tram Inquiry’ there are two things that stand out for me  . If you haven’t read the whole document – the recommendations [pp20-25] are as handy a starting point [ and possibly a finishing point for many ] as anywhere.

The first , and in some ways the most curious aspect of the  recommendations  from Lord Hardie  are the ordering of the first few  of his recommendations.

The first four are basically advice /instruction to The Scottish Government on how they should create and support such public inquiries . We can readily infer from this short list that Lord Hardie was not very happy with how matters played out.  

The curiosity is that what we sometimes refer to as the ‘bed and rations ‘ aspects of any such inquiry /commission /report are  usually tucked away at the tail end or even the appendices of any such report . It may be that Lord Hardie wanted them to serve as a warmup for the later, far more severe recommendations he commits to.

His report deserves the sometime cliched description of ‘hard hitting ‘ and the hitting extends to an awful lot of people and organisations .

It’s important to note that Lord Andrew Hardie , when on the bench was sometimes thought to  express ‘robust views’ and he certainly does so here, covering a very wide group of the various actors involved in the ‘litany of failure ‘.

Some  of his further substantive  recommendations in numbers 5-24 , and the inquiry narrative they refer to, are bruising and also direct the Scottish Government to legislate and regulate  on matters that clearly signal dreadful failures in not just the governance of Phase 1 of the tram project but also in basic operational and administrative procedures .

Recommendation 20 is damning of TIE and its employees.

“directors, employees and consultants of the company responsible for the procurement and delivery of the project as project managers, including an arm’s-length external organisation (“ALEO”) wholly owned by the local authority that is the promoter and owner of the project, should not submit to the local authority information that is deceptive or reports that are misleading either by the inclusion of false statements or by the omission of references to facts that might influence the strategic decisions of councillors if they were disclosed. In that regard they should recognise and respect the need for local authority officials to scrutinise and challenge the accuracy of information and reports submitted to them and should not seek to frustrate, or interfere with, the instruction of independent consultants to advise officials on the accuracy of the risk assessment in such reports or on the terms of any draft contracts for which they seek authority to sign. [Our emphasis]

In 21 , council officers get it in the neck too.

“…Local authority officials should be mindful at all times of the distinction in roles between them and councillors, who are solely responsible for strategic decisions, and of their duty to provide accurate reports to councillors to enable them to take informed decisions based upon the reality of the situation. Such reports should not be misleading either by the inclusion of false statements or by the omission of relevant facts. Where officials prepare and submit reports based upon reports to them from an ALEO acting as the procurement and delivery vehicle, they should not assume the accuracy of these reports based upon the adoption of a “one family” approach involving the local authority and the ALEO. “ [Our emphasis]

23.  Even proposes Ministers should consider specific criminal legislation to address such deliberate .

“In addition to any civil liability arising from any sanction introduced in accordance with Recommendation 22, the Scottish Ministers should consider whether there is a need for a statutory criminal offence involving strict liability once it is established that the information and/or report was misleading by reason of the inclusion of false statements or the omission of relevant facts.” [Our emphasis ].

His Lordship was also of course not impressed with the evidence from the former Finance Secretary [ the then relevant minister ] and some  of his senior officials. He clearly takes the view that the 2007 government should not have initially  stepped back from engagement in the project, and then is critical of the way they re-engaged , stating in his narrative he could not ‘understand ‘ why the minister and a senior official ‘…felt obliged to obscure what transpired [ in  a phone exchange ]’ .

There must   and will be more to follow on from this lengthy and fascinating  inquiry report and if government ministers think it can be deep archived at the Registers for Scotland and forgotten just because it criticises ministers and officials they’ll be dissapointed.

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