Saturday, 20 December 2008

Out of Control Tram

I've finally received a reply to my Freedom of Information request to tie - and I have a couple of concerns about it, strangely enough.

Firstly, Howard Elwyn-Jones, the Information Manager for tie says he didn't miss the deadline because

under Section 10(1)b of the Act, the twenty day period commences from the day
following receipt of the information request


10 Time for compliance

(1) Subject to subsections (2) and (3), a Scottish public authority receiving a request which requires it to comply with section 1(1) must comply promptly; and in any event by not later than the twentieth working day after— (a) in a case other than that mentioned in paragraph (b), the receipt by the authority of the request; or

(b) in a case where section 1(3) applies, the receipt by it of the further information.

So 10(1)(b) is actually about the procedure when the public body asks for further information. Why did the Information Manager of tie tell me it gave him an extra day? Was he lying, does he truly not know, or is there some other reason? Whatever the reason, the mistruth is unacceptable - it's not difficult to check the Act - but it is indicative of the slapdash attitude that tie has towards the whole project.

I asked for some simple information:

the latest overall cost projections for tramline 1a and tramline 1b. Iwould like one global figure for each line and the date on which the projection was made.

Here's the response to that request:
The information which you request is already in the public domain and has been reported extensively in the media as well as in documentation available online from our website. For convenience and the avoidance of doubt, I re-iterate the ‘global’ cost figures requested below:
· The cost projection for line 1b remain unchanged from the Final Business Case of 7th December 2007 and stand at £87.3 million.
· The cost projection for line 1A was amended on the 14th of May 2008 to reflect alterations at contract closure for INFRACO, giving a figure of £512 million. This is a full release of the information you requested.
So I'm to believe that the contract cost for 1b hasn't been examined for a whole year and 1a - for which construction has already started - hasn't been looked at since May. It's the equivalent of shoving your fingers in your ears and saying "lalalalalalalalalala" very loudly. Surely no-one managing a major construction project would just leave the capital spend to take care of itself, would they?

Here's a wee problem, though, the Business Case makes it clear that costs will keep changing until the design is finalised. A previous FOI request I made came back with the information "All detailed Design Submittals to tie are due for completion by 20/02/09" - so the costs cannot be finalised before the end of February - another two months.

There's another difficulty. Have a wee look at the answers David McLetchie got to his Parliamentary Questions:

David McLetchie (Edinburgh Pentlands) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive how payment of the remainder of its £500 million contribution to the Edinburgh trams project will be phased, specifying anticipated (a) timescale, (b) size and (c) purpose of each payment. (S3W-17962)

Stewart Stevenson: The detailed phasing of expenditure is for City of Edinburgh Council to manage. The Scottish Government will continue to meet its agreed obligation of 91.7% of expenditure, subject to annual limits of £120 million in this financial year and £149 million in next financial year.

David McLetchie (Edinburgh Pentlands) (Con): To ask the Scottish Executive whether its contribution to the Edinburgh trams project will remain at £500 million if Phase 1b does not go ahead.(S3W-17963)

Stewart Stevenson: The Scottish Government will pay the agreed 91.7% of costs expended by CEC on lines 1a and 1b up to a limit of £500 million. This arrangement is not altered by the status of Line 1b.

That 8.3% funding gap is what Edinburgh Council needs to find. Given that the Scottish Government has ponied up almost £207 million so far, Edinburgh Council has spent more than £18 million - more than half of the predicted cost has been spent and the utility diversions aren't even finished. Coming in on budget? My eye.

You'll remember that 1b was cancelled and 1a was in doubt a month ago. Attempts were made to save 1b - and reports were brought to Edinburgh Council on Thursday, including one on line 1b. The business case for 1b was based on a quarter of a million square feet of development at Granton, the report indicated that this was now six years behind expectation - they spent money on consultants Price Waterhouse Coopers to find out that there was a recession on.

I loved this comment; "Since this work was undertaken in the summer the wider economic climate has taken a further downturn", so the report is using out-of-date information - excellent!

Contained in that report, however, are hints that the 1a construction costs are out of control. Things like:
For various reasons, slower than anticipated mobilisation of the lnfraco contractor has been an issue in relation to Phase la. As a result, and until more information is to hand, a prudent view should be taken with regard to committing headroom from Phase la to the construction of Phase 1b.
The 'headroom' being referred to were the savings that they thought were coming on 1a, and that 'prudent view' can be translated as "och no, not the dreaded overspend!"

In the summer when the costs of construction were running out of control there was a suggestion that the tram vehicles could be rented rather than bought (they cost about £2m each) - I'd be surprised if that isn't brought back to save £54 million in capital costs but increase fares. Bus fares are already being increased to help pay for the tram.

Costs will continue to spiral out of control. On the 24th of April 2008 tie announced a "final contract price" of £508 million (up 2% since the Business Case passed in December) and three weeks later it had increased by another £4 million.

There's this bit from the report:

Currently tie are engaged with the lnfraco contractor on re-programming Phase la to address the slow start up of construction and this may impact on costs and risk allowances. This work will continue in the lead up to Christmas and the potential impact on financial headroom will not be known until the New Year.

That question about whether anybody running a major construction project would just trust to luck on the spending - it looks like someone is doing exactly that. And their hyphenation is out of control.

It wouldn't be so bad if the scheme was worth having.

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