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Edinburgh tram scheme 'risks not being finished'

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The Scottish government should become more involved in Edinburgh’s tram project as it faces the risk of not being completed, Audit Scotland has warned.

In a report on the progress of the city’s tram line network, the watchdog said the government should consider using Transport Scotland’s expertise to become more actively involved to help avoid possible further delays and costs.

Audit Scotland also said Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (Tie), the body set up by the Edinburgh City Council to deliver the tram system, may lack the necessary skills and experience to complete the project, after a number of staff left in recent months.

The report said there was “significant concern” about what the project will finally cost, and whether it will deliver the expected benefits.

The tram works have been plagued by delays, overspend and a dispute between contractors Bilfinger Berger and Tie.

Work is currently on hold, however, as mediation talks between the two parties are due to take place soon.

The project’s chairman David Mackay announced in November that he was taking early retirement and standing down immediately.

Despite those problems, it is still hoped the project will be completed in 2013, however Audit Scotland said it was now clear it would not be done within the £545m budget.

While utilities diversion works are 97% complete, and 75% of tram vehicles have been built, only 28% of infrastructure work has been carried out against a target of 99% for December 2010. Meanwhile, 74% of the funding has already been spent.

John Baillie, chairman of the Accounts Commission, one of the organisations the report was prepared for, said public confidence in the tram works was “extremely low”, and advised the city council and Tie to urgently better explain how the project is progressing.

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