Union chiefs want Lothian Buses to run the Edinburgh trams

 By Clare Carswell 
UNION chiefs are calling for Edinburgh’s controversial new tram services to be run by the city’s award winning bus operator instead. They argue that Lothian Buses already runs a profitable service and can turn around the ailing fortunes of the project by wresting control from TEL – the company currently poised to operate the lines.

It follows the shock departure yesterday of David MacKay, chairman of the company behind the TIE construction project which has been dogged by delays, legal battles and spiralling costs.

In a parting shot, he branded the elements of the project as “hell on wheels” and launched a furious broadside against the German contractors, Bilfinger Berger.

He added: “I believe there comes an important juncture when the most powerful action you can take is to pass the controls to a successor and to then watch that organisation develop further under a new champion.

“It will be an opportunity for the project to re-engage and replenish.

“The project has been an enormously absorbing one and as such there was never going to be an entirely ideal time to step aside.”

But Rab Fraser, Chairman of the Lothian Buses branch of Unite the union and Joint Trade Union Committee, said there was now an opportunity to plan for a successful future for Edinburgh’s transport system.

He said: “We’re not against the trams and buses working together, but let Lothian Buses run it.

“We continue to argue that TEL is not required.

“Let Tie build the tram but let somebody with the experience of running a public service take control.”

“TEL is not required, Why do we need it?  What we want is for TEL to be dismissed.

“We’re not against the trams and buses working together, but let Lothian Buses run it.

“Lothian Buses will make it work.  The council is in a mess, Tie is in a mess, TEL is in a mess.  The only thing that is not in a mess is Lothian Buses.  Do they want Lothian Buses to get in a mess?

“We’re offering a solution, once the tram project is built let Lothian Buses run it.

“David MacKay has resigned and once again the trams are in the news because the trams are a mess.”

His call comes after it was suggested previously that Lothian Buses subsidise the new service, sparking a recent protest outside the City Chambers from angry bus drivers fearful over their jobs.

In a statement yesterday, Unite said: “We would like to inform staff that we the J.T.U.C and the 7/21 Branch Committee welcome this decision as a step in the right direction in the ongoing fight for the future of Lothian Buses employees.

“We will continue to ask that T.E.L be disbanded.

“Once T.I.E has completed construction of the Tram line, that it be handed over debt free to Lothian Buses under a Chairman, who’s leadership we can move forward with, and continue to give the people of Edinburgh and the Lothians an excellent transport system that must remain in public ownership.”

In response to the statement made by Rab Fraser, Councillor Gordon Mackenzie, Transport Convener at the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “The plan has always been that trams will run alongside Lothian Buses to provide an integrated transport solution for the city. The updated business case, which we will be releasing shortly, underlines the commercial sense behind that strategy.”

Councillor Steve Cardownie, Leader of the SNP Group, said:”This is obviously a matter for the Union and its Members but it is an interesting proposition.    Should the trams ever be completed (even to St Andrew’s Square) there may be merit in the Union’s suggestion.

I will invite Union representatives to discuss these issues with us as, in due course, a decision on the future management of an integrated transport system will have to be taken.”

After Mr MacKAy’s resignation, SNP MSP for Lothians Shirley Anne Somerville said: “If David MacKay’s resignation reflects the state of negotiations with the contractors then this city could be facing real problems.

“If someone with his experience cannot tough these negotiations out what does it say for the future. Does his departure mean the contractors are winning?

“David MacKay has blown the cover of those Labour, Lib Dem and Tory politicians who have hidden the truth from the people of Edinburgh for the last five years.

“This whole project has been hindered by the failure of its supporters to answer questions and put the truth to the people of Edinburgh. That must be the priority.

“The SNP warned our political opponents that forcing the Scottish Government to implement this project would lead to funding problems and chaos for people in Edinburgh. It is deeply unfortunate that with David MacKay’s resignation we are seeing our worst fears realised.”

David McLetchie, Scottish Conservative MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands, said: “I believe we are heading for a divorce and that Bilfinger Berger will be sacked and that in due course blame, expenses and damages will be apportioned between the warring parties by the courts. In the meantime the Council need to put a new Chairman in place to succeed Mr. Mackay and step in to the contract so it can be progressed.

“Many local firms and workers are involved in the trams project who are perfectly capable of finishing the job and we should give them our support. The City Council must also show some leadership and take responsibility for a project which it commissioned.”

It is understood that interim chairs will step in for Tie and Lothian Buses until a joint successor is appointed.

Mr MacKay’s decision to go is the latest of a series of set backs for the 11.5mile Edinburgh airport-Newhaven line.

The completion date of 2013 is now questionable for a project which is likely to overspend considerably on the £545 million budget.