Malcolm writes arguing that the trams should still come to Leith
Letter arguing that the tram project should still come to Leith To John Swinney MSP,
Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, Scottish Government



Dear John,

Notwithstanding our differences on this issue, I know you will be as concerned as I am about the difficulties that have arisen in relation to the tram project. I think there will need to be an inquiry in due course but the urgent priority for now must be to get the work completed as soon as possible. That includes driving as hard a bargain as possible with Bilfinger Berger who have been holding up the work while trying to extract as much money as possible from the public purse.

You will know that one of the options being considered by the Council is limiting the route by making it Airport to York Place only. That would be totally unacceptable to my constituents. Even many of those who were opposed to the tram at the start are aghast at this prospect. Residents and businesses have endured a great deal of disruption over the last two to three years and the least they can expect is some tangible benefit to result from that.

It now seems there may be an additional cost attached to completing the route from the Airport to Newhaven and the last thing I want is for that cost to be borne by local council tax payers. Ideally it should be paid for by central government, as is common practice with the many transport projects that come in above budget. I understand however the difficulties of the current public expenditure situation and therefore hope you will consider an alternative. I know you have expressed support in general terms for tax increment financing and I hope you will be prepared to consider that for the tram. In other words, I hope the Council will be allowed to borrow any additional money required on the basis that it will be paid back from extra business rate income that results from the tram development.

I am not na´ve enough to think that the tram will not continue to be a divisive political issue. Your party will no doubt repeat its initial hostility to the tram, perhaps calling for a referendum on it, although I know your own Transport Minister is enthusiastic about the prospect of trams. . Equally, I can point to the fact that the project was given a clean bill of health by Audit Scotland in 2007 and that there has been mismanagement of the project by the Council and an unhelpful hands off approach by the Scottish Government as it has handed out money without asking questions.

Be that as it may, I think it is far more important to ensure that the project is completed with the minimum extra cost to the public purse that is possible in the circumstances. I am sure you agree it does Edinburgh and Scotland no good for such a major project to be seen to be failing. I hope therefore that we can all work together to find a solution that benefits the city and Scotland without resulting in extra costs for council tax payers.

Yours sincerely

MALCOLM CHISHOLM
16th August 2010