Wednesday 25 June 2008

Tramlining across the universe ...

I've just been to a briefing on the Edinburgh Tram Project. It was lovely - a pretty film of the trams operating (computer generated, calm down laddie), a Powerpoint presentation with lots of slides with lots and lots of words (no information, but plenty words), and a Q&A session.

I'll give them this - they believe in miracles, it's a kind of "build it and they will come" attitude, and they're full of aspiration - with absolutely no idea whatsoever how to fulfil any of those aspirations. There was a lot of talk about making Edinburgh the leading centre for all kinds of things but no route-map for getting there.
Then we got down to the questions (some asked by me, some by David McLetchie MSP of the Conservatives) -

Q: How much of the developers' contributions have been received?
A: Er - dunno. But we think we've got £24 million of the £45 million identified.

Q: So about half is identified but you don't know how much is in?
A: Well, we're confident we'll get it.

Q: How's the slowdown in the housing market affecting things?
A: Well, it means that the developer contributions will come much later than we thought, but they'll come.

Q: So you'll have to pay more for financing costs because of the slowdown?
A: Well, we'll have to rearrange financing.

Q: Is there a penalty for not committing to 1b in time?
A: Well, it costs us £3.2 million if we don't commit by March next year, but it's a cost we've got to pay rather than a penalty.

Q: See how you're £54 million short of the money you need for 1b - how are you going to raise that?
A: Well, we'll ask the council and the Government for it.
Q: The Government has already made clear that it was giving £500 million and not a penny more and that was the resolution of Parliament as well. Whose responsibility is it to raise the money? (Well asked, Mr McLetchie)
A: The council will be responsible, but we'll find it somehow.

Q: Where will you find this missing £54 million? Has there been any scoping done of possible avenues of finance?
A: We'll find it. There's some scoping started.

Q: Streetscaping works - they're not included, are they?
A: No, they're extra.

Q: Where are you finding the money for them?
A: We'll ask the Government and Scottish Enterprise and other people.

Q: There's a big hole in this, isn't there? (paraphrasing)
A: No, no, if we'd taken this business case to London or Munich we'd have raised the money no bother from the private sector.

Q: If you could raise all the money from the private sector, why don't you raise the bit you need for 1b from there?
A: Ah well, we've got a plan in place.
Q: See how your business plan is predicated on there being enough customers at the Waterfront and that's not happening, is that not a problem?
A: Ah, well, we've got to build the trams before the developers will build the houses.
Q: Aren't you depending on developer contributions for the cost of the trams?
A: Ah, well, it's a bit chicken and egg there...

Q: You need the people down there to use the trams according to your business case, so if the house building has slowed down and they won't be built until the tram is in place, your business case is toast, isn't it?
A: Well, it means that it won't make money for a while.
And so it went on. The insistence that the business case was sound in spite of the blindingly obvious point that it was about as sound as a £7 note, the starry-eyed ambition to build tramlines everywhere without any idea of where the capital investment would come from, the grim determination to pretend that no problem has ever laughed up its sleeve at the Project.

You know, they actually told us that we should be optimistic instead of challenging the inadequacies of this scheme - there's none so blind as those who will not see.

We never even got onto the concessionary fares - one of the essential funding streams in the business case and one they know they're not getting - but one they've still left in.

More tea?

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