Labour and Tory councillors have been accused of “playing poker” and of taking a “£160 million gamble” with public services after they joined together in order to vote through plans for a curtailed Edinburgh tram line.
Opponents have accused both parties of taking “the worst of all possible options” after the Tories backed the Labour proposal that will see the tramline restricted to a single route between Edinburgh Airport and Haymarket.
Lib Dem Gordon Mackenzie, who is the Transport Convenor, called the vote absolutely crazy and a “massive gamble” which leaves council officials less than a week to come up with an agreement with the contractors who he said now had the city “over a barrel”.
Speaking on radio Scotland Mr McKenzie said: “In six days’ time they [contractor] are entitled, pretty much, to take us to court and the settlement would be at least £60 million…that would mean an 80% jacking up of the council tax this year.
“It’s phenomenally high stakes poker they are playing and it’s absolutely ridiculous that they’ve ganged together to go down this route.”
Mr Mackenzie pointed out that the time period of a 30 year payback was the same as the proposal his own party had put forward which was to take the route to St Andrew’s Square, the option favoured by local businesses. He also claimed that under the Labour/Tory proposal the yearly repayments would now increase from £4.8 million to £6.2 million.
The SNP have consistently argued against the tram project and the Nationalist group abstained from the vote leaving it to the other parties. Mr Mackenzie accused the Labour and Tory group of opting for the worst option in an attempt at drawing the SNP in to voting it down and claimed that the Labour and Tory groups should be “ashamed of themselves”.
Colin Keir, SNP MSP for Edinburgh Western, said:
“The Tories and Labour have made an astonishing mistake, forcing through a trams project that essentially nobody wants.
“The SNP have tried on four separate occasions to stop the trams, have called for a referendum and today we urged for a public enquiry.
“But this reckless decision will have serious financial consequences for the city of Edinburgh council.
“There is no robust business case for a tram line that starts at the airport and ends at Haymarket.
“In June the option to take the trams to Haymarket was thrown out because it doesn’t add up – it would incur an operational loss of £4 million per year.
“With this decision Edinburgh is paying nearly double the original budget for a quarter of the tram line opposition parties forced through four years ago. In the capital and across the country the public will be asking how opposition parties can ever justify their increasingly ridiculous decisions.”
The trams project was the first major defeat of the then fledgling SNP government who, in 2007 despite opposing the plans, were forced to plough half a billion pounds into the venture after the Unionist parties joined together to outvote them.
The project has been plagued with problems and there have been calls for the whole thing to be scrapped. SNP Finance Minister John Swinney has pledged that no more public cash will be provided for the project by the Scottish government.