Silence of the Trams: official documents completely censored

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The documents were almost completely blacked out

TRANSPORT chiefs were today accused of “breathtaking” secrecy over Edinburgh’s trams project after documents released under transparency laws were almost completely censored.

Officials from Transport Scotland used a thick black marker pen to blot out papers released after a freedom of information request was submitted by Scottish Labour.

The Government agency released 17 pages of documents after officials were asked why the roads group was removed from the trams project after the SNP came to power at Holyrood in 2007.

But most of the information was “redacted” leaving just a few paragraphs available for members of the public to see.

The agency said they were withholding the information so that those in power could “discuss the making of policy” without talks being made public.

However, Lothians Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said the blackout was “unacceptable”.

And she said a public inquiry, which ministers have agreed to in principle, should have the power to compel witnesses to attend and produce paperwork.

“This level of secrecy is breathtaking,” she said.

“We need to know why ministers ordered Transport Scotland experts off the project way back in 2007.

“They were the ones able to advise on potential pitfalls, they should have been at the table, but somebody ordered them off.

“These papers show who it was – but we are not allowed to know.

Concerns

“We need total honesty and openness on the trams. People cannot hide behind a marker pen and those responsible for mistakes must be prepared to take full responsibility.

“People inEdinburghare furious by the way the trams have been handled by the council and the government. The public has the right to know. A news blackout like this is unacceptable.”

Earlier this month it was revealed that Edinburgh City Council and trams firm TIE responded to a similar FoI request by claiming they no longer held the information.

They then admitted they did have the documents, but would not hand them over, claiming it would cost too much to do so.

The council had previously claimed they no longer had the documents

Labour’s transport spokeswoman for Edinburgh Council, Lesley Hinds, said: “There are real concerns that even under freedom of information law so much information is scored out. We need a rigorous, full inquiry to make sure they can get to the truth.

“You’ve got to ask what the Scottish Government has got to hide here.

“It must be pretty embarrassing stuff to go to this effort. Clearly something has gone catastrophically wrong with this project and the public want answers.”

Gordon Henderson, development manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “We have always supported the case for a public inquiry, and this certainly adds fuel to that argument, as it seems it will be the only way to find out what is behind the black ink.”

Transport Scotland said the blacked out information related to the formulation of government policy.

A letter from the agency said: “Officials and ministers must be able to work in an environment where they are able to discuss the making of policy without the threat of the release of those deliberations. We consider the interest of the public is better served by withholding the information.”

Labour said it planned to appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner for the release of the full documents.

The information released by Transport Scotland includes a statement on behalf of Finance Secretary John Swinney, dated July 11, 2007, which says he agrees the agency should “scale back its direct involvement” with the project.

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