Agenda item 8.1 referred to the Tram Update Report which we have already highlighted in an earlier article. This report was prepared by Dave Anderson, Director of City Development, and Donald McGougan ,Director of Finance.
In June this year the Council had demanded the report to provide facts and figures on all of the options open to the council, all in light of the ongoing dispute with the consortium charged with delivery of the tram project. Part of the report highlights that there are assumptions made within it based on figures which actually cannot be divulged as they are considered “commercially sensitive” information. By this what is meant is that they are commercially sensitive to both the tram contracts and also Lothian Buses.
Another significant part of the report referred again to the long-term council policy to integrate trams and buses under one management structure. (more of that here).
The Tram Update Report concludes with the recommendations that the Council:-
a) Note the position regarding the Business Case and discharge the motion of 24th June
b) Note the disappointing lack of progress in relation to the negotiations and progress of physical works
c) Endorse rigorous application of the contract by tie
d) Note that in the absence of robust remediation plans from the consortium and a change of behaviour in relation to progressing the works, serious consideration will need to be given to termination of the contract and re-procurement.
e) Note the recent governance developments and future work streams.
f) Note that a report will be prepared for the December Council (or possibly an earlier special meeting) on the next steps.
The LibDems proposed an amendment to the motion to adopt the recommendations from this report. After three votes their amendment was adopted.
The LibDem amendment was as follows:-
The City of Edinburgh Council – 14 October 2010
LIBERAL DEMOCRAT AMENDMENT
8.1 – Edinburgh Tram Update Report
Council agrees the recommendations in the report at 6.1 and adds:
1. Agrees that the provision of information of commercially sensitive information on the current and future patronage and profits of Lothian Buses would represent an unnecessary risk to the company irrespective of whether or not there is a combined bus and tram operation in future;
2. Agrees that a more detailed account of the updated Business Case, including further options as requested, will be made available to all members for the Council meeting in December (or earlier if there is a Special Meeting) while protecting the commercial interests of Lothian Buses but that Members of each political group would be provided with access to the full update for scrutiny, subject to written undertakings by those individuals that they will not disclose commercially sensitive detail to any other individual or organisation;
3. Notes that the report(s) to Council on 17th Dec 2009 referred specifically (Item 7.3a – para 2.20) to ‘remuneration matters for TEL and all other arms-length Council owned companies’ and that the decision that day (8) was to report ‘(on the remuneration matters for TEL and all arms length Council owned companies)’;
4. Council further notes that the report before us today does not recommend any changes in remuneration; and
5. Council reaffirms the undertaking given in the report, detailed above, that a report will provided on remuneration matters for Council owned arms length companies and agrees to instruct the Chief Executive to ensure that a report is provided to Council on remuneration matters at TEL before there is any change to remuneration for the Chief Executive or Chief Operating Officer positions at TEL.
6. (Green Addendum): agrees that the updates Business Case and the report on governance issues will also include detailed information not considered to be commercially sensitive about the impacts, specifically on Lothian Buses, of the different options for moving forward with the Tram Project.
In general terms the LibDem amendment to the original motion adds to the recommendations by providing that even if there is some commercially sensitive information then that information should be made known to representatives of each political group within the council, on the basis that they will not “disclose commercially sensitive material to any other individual or organisation.” In short, some people within the council would then have more concrete information on which to recommend action by the council. The motion also seeks a report on remuneration matters before any change is made to remuneration of the Chief Executive or Chief Operating Officer of TEL (even though the report actually stated that there would be no change in remuneration for either role in the combined bus and tram company.)
Much was made by the elected members during the debate of the lack of time to consider the motions and the amendments to them, and in particular that the final wording might have still been a little unclear to some elected members. It is perhaps worth noting that the SNP yet again made demands that the Tram Project in its entirety is scrapped.
Here are some quotes from a variety of Councillors during the debate:-
Councillor McIvor:-“What a disaster! The forecast is that the line will run from Haymarket to the Airport and it will drag down Lothian Buses. I say to you…Get rid ot the trams!”
Another SNP Councillor:-“This has bounced from one disaster to another. Some years ago there was a bus war ending with 6 months of misery. My fear is that Lothian Buses is being set up for attack. Would they have the financial power to fend off an attack? I don’t think so.”
Councillor Peacock:-“Back tie! We anticipated a high quality highly integrated transport system. Now we require more information.
Councillor Barry:-“The scheme is now a shambles.”
Conservative Councillor Balfour. “Almost all of us want a tram for the city. How we deliver it is open to debate. We are all passionate about the buses. We all benefit from it and we all use it. Tram and bus working together would be best for the city. What we thought we were going to get today was a business case for the tram. We ask for a fresh update now. With figures and we can understand where we are going. We need to move the project forward. We are no further forward after a few months. The people of Edinburgh expect progress. What we are looking for is all the options with all figures behind it and then make a good decision on good information. Stop for a few weeks and then let us have a proper debate on where we go from there.”
Councillor White:-“I fear that the deputations have been subject to SNP scaremongering. There has to be integration of buses and trams. As to ending the tram contract – how do you know that would be in the best interests of the city? We have no information on which to base such a decision. We have had this dispute for 18 months. There is no resolution and no leadership. It is time to bring it to a close.
Councillor Dawe – “Whether individuals are committed to the trams or not nobody wants to be here in this position today. We are in a difficult position here today. I have some sympathy for the view that we need more detail. I believe that we have to take account of the legitimate concerns of Lothian Buses that publication of information would endanger their business. Our call for more detail in December would address the lack of information in the report before us today. The key is integration of buses and trams and as far back as April 2004 councillors discussed the possible integration of trams and buses. The proposed appointment of Richard Jeffrey and Ian Craig as CEO and COO of the new integrated operation would only allow that to happen.”
One SNP councillor pointed out that the Council as a major shareholder receives a dividend from Lothian Buses. He went on to point out that this forms a major part of the council’s revenue budget. This budget would have to be cut if Lothian Buses have to use their finances to prop up the trams.
Edinburgh Trams report that Transport Convenor, Councillor Gordon Mackenzie, said the following:-“This Motion provides a sensible way forward and will provide Members with greater comfort that the business case for the future combined tram and bus integrated network is solid. Everyone within the Chamber today was united in seeking to ensure that the interests of Lothian Buses going forward are protected. I am confident that the strength of the two businesses going forward under an overarching operating company will only enhance the public transport provision in the city.” This is a much more concise statement than he was able to make during the debate itself.
So what happened yesterday at the Council Chambers? Well the council decided to commission a report on the trams to be brought to the December Council meeting, and provided that although this report will be based on actual figures being made known o the authors of the report, or at least the contributors to it, the commercially sensitive figures might not be brought into the public domain or indeed aired at the December council meeting.
In short the dispute with Bilfinger Berger has been going on at least all of 2010 and some of 2009. No decision has yet been taken to sack them. The council have been told that negotiations are continuing with the contractors to resolve the issues. Another two months will pass before any substantial decision will be taken by the council.
In the meantime you can keep up with some debate on the trams by visiting Edinburgh Trams Facebook page.