Capital’s leaders are far from inspiring

What do all these statements have in common?

They are pretty schocked and they did not see it coming, which is part of their problems,  We all thought that they could be defeated on this, but they did not see it coming.”

As a group, we will be discussing everything on Monday and we will not have any knee-jerk reactions before then...”

It is quite obvious to anybody, especially after today, that they do not have the confidence of this council.

I’m not going to be tainted by this ill-fated project which we have tried consistently to oppose but been repeatedly rebuffed by the other parties.

It’s called putting the party interest before that of the people.  After the decision was made to stop Edinburgh’s trams at Haymarket – plan D – thanks to an unholy Labour-Conservative alliance, at a council meeting on Thursday, all the council groups charged out press releases and comments that claimed it wisnae us.  All that was missing was the big boy who did it and ran away, though given the Tories’ conspicuous silence on Friday despite their councillors having switched tack and voted with Labour to deliver this astoundingly petty compromise, fingers can be pointed fairly in their direction.

The blame game played out on Friday confirms that the shenanigans on Thursday in Edinburgh’s City Chambers represent a collective dereliction of duty and proves that we are indeed being governed by “political pygmies”, as the Edinburgh Evening News claimed.  Everyone went into that council meeting with one eye on the local government elections in May 2012 and played politics with the public purse and the reputation of Scotland’s capital city.  Shame on them, but bigger shame for us.

Initially, I was quite excited by the prospect of trams, but that enthusiasm waned when the proposals were set out.  Unlike other cities which have created tramways to serve the local population, stretching out into their suburbs and providing residents with a cost-effective and efficient mode of accessing work and leisure opportunities in the centre, our trams would be primarily for business and tourist visitors.  Yet another example of Edinburgh council thinking it is Edinburgh plc.

Then, the works started.  Like many residents, getting to work and home again became a gamble.  At one point, I was leaving work two hours’ early to make sure, I made it home in time to collect the chicklet from out-of-school club – and often I only made it after a final sprint on foot.   No amount of disruption to locals’ lives – us what pays our taxes for this little venture – would be allowed to get in the way of the grand plan.

Completion dates were pushed back, costs soared, and all we currently have to show for our forbearance are unsightly building sites blighting some of the city’s iconic streets and intersections,  buckling tramlines on Princes Street, an unholy mess and traffic congestion at Gogar roundabout, missing historic monuments and a shed, somewhere, filled with trams.  If it wasn’t our mess and our money, it would be funny.

Thank goodness for taxi drivers whom I have had to use a lot in the last two years – apparently one hour is still not long enough to travel five miles by bus.  My knowledge of the project’s failings has increased thanks to their encyclopaedic obsession with the cause of so much of their travails in recent years.  Only this week, I found out that unlike other cities, who add to their tram stock as they need it, we bought a full complement of 27 trams at the start.  As the proposal has been depleted – the branch through Granton went first (plan A), then the stage to Leith plan B), and now finally half of the main line (plan C) – so the number becoming obsolete has increased.  We own 27 trams and now need only a handful of them.

Worse, efforts to offload the surplus stock have proved futile, for we opted for the biggest, heaviest tram options and no other city has tramtracks strong enough to take them.  Indeed, it is debatable whether or not our own roads will be able to carry the weight without causing damage.  Given the amount of nonsense that has been spouted from official sources during the lifetime of this project, why should I doubt what seems utterly plausible from a taxi-driver?

I didn’t have the chance to test their reaction to the latest development but I can imagine it isn’t far different from everyone else’s.  Consternation and confoundment are us.  Our city leaders have bequeathed us with a tram plan a third of the size of the original proposal, that no one will use, and which will make a loss.  This is the result of the opposition groups’ political posturing, the ineptitude of the ruling Lib Dems, and their partners, the SNP, mistaking themselves for Pontius Pilate’s heirs.  And in case any of them have failed to notice, their constituents – the voters – are furious.

No one wanted to be where we are now.  The trams have been a fiasco from the start: has anyone muttered the ultimate platitude yet that lessons will be learned?   There were only two feasible options.  First, for everyone to take a deep breath and plunge on with the route to St Andrews Square and ensure that potentially the busiest and most profitable section of the route along Princes Street is completed or second, to mothball the whole shebang until economic fortunes change, allowing  a full review and long term solution to be found.  Why was this latter option – which polls have shown Edinburgh residents would prefer  – not on the table on Thursday, from any of the party groups on the council?  Because Thursday was never about what was in the interests of the public or its purse.

We now have a tram to nowhere.  Crisis came knocking and no leaders came to the fore.  They squabbled, we lose.  They have made Edinburgh and indeed, Scotland a laughing stock.  Perhaps the biggest crime of all, given their customary disdain for this city’s residents, they have done it fully under the gaze of the greatest show on earth, with all those visitors, and indeed the world’s media, taking homewards their tale of tram woe and incompetence.

But next May, the residents get a chance to fight back, in the local government elections.  If I was a sitting councillor right now, I’d be very afraid.

25 thoughts on “Capital’s leaders are far from inspiring

  1. I’ve just finished watching an astounding edition of #newsnicht in which ther Leaders of the Lab and Con groups on Edinburgh Council floundered for 15 minutes to say ‘it wisnae me’ and do their Fawlty Towers Manuel ‘I know nothing’ impersonations. They seem insanely out of touch as they dimly perceive the chaos they have created at huge expense from their ivory towers. They scatter blame as widely as they can: although had the project succeeded to great acclaim, we can guess that they would have swiftly claimed the praise.

    What are these people for? Did none of them ever take a look at what was going on? Did not one of them ever think to pick up the phone to a colleague in Nottingham or Manchester to get a few hints on how to make a tram system work? Did they ever look at other ideas, such as http://www.reopenthesouthsub.org.uk/ , a scheme that might well interface very well with street tramways? Do they not watch the Simpsons? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marge_vs._the_Monorail

    If I lived in Edinburgh I’d be thinking of running every councillor out of town after watching this display of gormlessness. Edinburgh Council needs to take a long hard look at itself and either transform itself into something useful or abolish itself. Either choice would be a step forward; it’s worse than useless as it stands. Nearly a billion pounds spent to not build a tram line? I’d have not built it for a tenth of that!

  2. Scrap them now.
    Edinburgh has a great bus service. All that was needed (and it still is) is a rail link into the airport.
    Who in their right mind is gonnae fly into the airport, get on a bus for 1/2 mile, get off, get on a tram, get off at Haymarket, get a bus/taxi into town?
    Its ludicrous.
    This is worse than the monorail episode from The Simpsons!

  3. If the Scottish Government do get involved, then you’re talking about what is best for Scotland as a whole, not just Edinburgh. From that point of view, I think mothballing is the only option. It should never have been started in the first place, and although it seems a shame to spend so much money and end up with nothing, there’s just no justification to throw good money after bad, bearing in mind that it wasn’t even an essential project in the first place.

    It’s a shambles, and if the government DO step in, I hope the people of Edinburgh do not forget who it was that forced the trams through in 2007, because as soon as the government step in, we’ll see Labour and the Tories trying to offload the blame onto the SNP.

  4. I’m utterly amazed at the incompetence displayed throughout the Edinburgh tram project.

    http://www.thetram.net/index.php

    shows just one example of how a UK city has made a great success of trams. Manchester is the other example that springs to mind. Then there’s the West Midlands, Sheffield, Newcastle, Croydon………

    • On a recent visit to Strasbourg, I was struck by how integrated its tram system looked, yet it had been subject to huge controversy while being built. It can be done! Thanks for the link.

    • Exactly, none of the critics of the Tram system have been able to tell me what is so different about Edinburgh that it cannot have this. The project has been dogged by incompetence from the start, but in 10 years time everyone will be wondering what we ever did without it – if it is finished through to St. Andrews Square, at least.

  5. ” Unlike other cities which have created tramways to serve the local population, stretching out into their suburbs and providing residents with a cost-effective and efficient mode of accessing work and leisure opportunities in the centre, our trams would be primarily for business and tourist visitors. Yet another example of Edinburgh council thinking it is Edinburgh plc.”

    Mmm. Where else in Edinburgh is there actual space to put trams? Especially south of the Royal Mile where street space is minimal. Or do you mean the the old south suburban line?

  6. I think the project should be scrapped/mothballed now. Frankly, the Airport-Haymarket option is worse than scrapping it altogether.

    My concern is that if the project goes ahead now, it will put pressures on the Edinburgh Budget at a time when it’s being cut already.

    This will mean that the trams will result in cuts to essential services. The £4m loss a year is equivalent to the council tax paid by around 4000 homes in Edinburgh each year. Do Edinburgh residents really want their council tax money wasted in this way?

    Another way to balance the books if the trams go ahead might be to privatise Lothian Buses and roll it all up into one to achieve a cross subsidy.

    So not only might we end up gaining a tram service no-one wants, but we could lose a great bus service that people have fought in the past to keep.

    I am not the least bit interested in blame, that will get us nowhere and will in any case be fought out bitterly at the elections in May.

    Instead I am interested in what we as citizens can do to stop this now. Here’s my plan: The reason that the council said it couldn’t scrap the trams was it couldn’t afford to find the £160 million from its budget. This option was quickly dismissed.

    However, now is the time for leadership, and the Scottish Government could offer Edinburgh Council in principle funding to cover the costs of scrapping the trams for now. The SG could then recoup this money from the council over a number of years by reducing the annual grant given to the council.

    With the option of scrapping/mothballing back on the table, Edinburgh Council should take another vote, at which hopefully it would be agreed to scrap the trams for now.

    • I agree. It isn’t good enough for any party at this stage, to say we didn’t want it so there. Which is more or less the SNP line. They offered leadership and competence, which people voted for in their droves in May. Time to show it. The other thing is that councillors are elected to serve the people not their parties. Now, party policy governs what folk do, but there comes a point when that has to be subjugated to the greater good. The SNP will get more brickbats from holding to its line at local and national level than it would do for changing its mind and engaging in finding the solutions, at this stage. IMHO. Much as I am loathe to do it, mothballing does seem like the only proper option at this stage.

      • From what I can glean from the legalities, mothballing is inevitable. The SNP gov were forced to fund this but they put caveats on the deal, watch this space. You should see the contracter walking away, the Scot Gov mothballing it, the councillors who backed the scheme panicking like headless chickens as the local elections loom and the SNP at both council and gov level smelling of roses as usual. They saw this coming a long way away, they’ll have a plan worked out, dinnae fash!

      • And maybe it was the caveats on the deal which caused some of the problems? To be honest, no one comes out of this well, but the SNP’s attitude of washing their hands of things from the word go resulted in a lack of management which any fool could have told you would result in problems such as these.

      • There is as much support in my poll- small sample though I know – for mothballing as continuing. Why on earth didn’t the SNP move such an amendment and broker a deal with the Tories to support that? Cos they didn’t want to be seen to be in league with the Tories on this. Why didn;t Labour support the more sensible option of St As Square – more outlay but less revenue cost in the long run? Cos they didn’t want to give the LDs the glory for sorting the problem and wanted to be able to claim they fixed it, knowing full well they haven’t.

        Time they all realised this is real people’s real money and jobs and businesses they are playing with here.

  7. I have been following this debacle from the safe distance of Ross Shire. From here it is actually quite funny, the Simpsons parodied Detroit’s monorail in an episode that could easily have been written for Edinburgh’s trams. What’s tragic about this farce is the constant attempts by the political parties who devised this useless, unneccessary white elephant to share the blame with the SNP. Yes, the SNP could have voted on Thursday and tarred themselves for the good of the public but they have consistently opposed the scheme and have consistently said they would have nothing to do with any decisions in the running of it.
    To blame them for standing back and watching as it crumbles, is like someone who has been told very clearly and often that there is a large hungry crocodile in the pool yet they jump in anyway and as they are torn limb from limb, scream accusingly for not saving them. Although looking smug and saying I told you so is never popular, in this case, it’s absolutely true.
    We should all concentrate on who it was who actually thought this was a good idea, who it was that awarded the contracts, who it was who ran this into the ground. Not who it was who told you time and again not to do it. I think the contracters will walk away from this, the SNP government will pull the plug on it’s part of the funding and hold a public enquiry immediately.

    • Don’t know why you think it is funny because you too will end up paying for this folly! And no we have got beyond the original position – it is incumbent on all politicians at all levels to sort this out, to set aside previously held positions and policies and sort it. The time for dissection of who did what to whom is afterwards. When we have a tram system up and running.

    • Except the SNP havnt consistently opposed the scheme. Before 2006, they supported it. Some might say they then changed their tune just before the local elections in 2007 for political reasons, but I couldnt possibly comment.

      I’m sure I saw Kenny MacAskill demanding extra funding from the then Scottish Executive for even more Tram lines… whatever happened to him?

  8. I’m ashamed that the Labour group has done this, for as you say, purely party political reasons. Edinburgh needs to have this Tram system up and running properly as soon as possible – it’s made the city become a laughing stock.

    Maybe they just did it to copy the SNP who also went from supporting the project to being against it for election reasons before the last local elections.

    • Yep but that doesn’t make it right! If anyone thinks they are going to gain anything from the Edinburgh electorate out of how they have played this debacle, they are sadly wrong.

  9. As you say, it is an absolute fiasco.The present incumbents, including opposition cannot be trusted with anything more taxing than a box of crayons (washable,non toxic and blunt ended). It does not sit well for a higher authority to get involved… but right now someone needs to take a grip of an issue that is clearly beyond those currently charged with it. AS needs to throw some weight about in public and ensure that those he calls upon in the opposition to work with him are forced to respond in public. When things are truly in the open there is less political point scoring to be done. If it means hanging a few councillors out to dry then so be it. They had their chance.

    Talking of being charged with responsibility- there is an Engineering company who on the evidence in the public domain has failed to deliver. What are the extent of their responsibilities and where do the councils responsibilities kick in? An enquiry cannot be left any longer… it is still costing money. SNP for what may be pragmatic reasons washed their hands of it this week at council level. They need to now step in at a higher level as far as they are able within law and ignoring political gain or niceties.

    • I agree. This is Scotland’s capital city and the SG must now get involved in sorting this mess out, as local politicians have shown they cannot. SG is happy to interfere when it wants to – Donald Trump anyone?

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