An article in today's Evening News has provoked a furious response from Richard Jeffrey, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Trams. He denies the suggestion in the first two paragraphs of 'Leithed Out' that tram bosses are striking a deal with contractor Bilfinger Berger to run the service from the Airport only as far as York Place. This, the News claims, is an effort to deliver the route by June 2012 at a cost of under £500m.
In an open letter to the paper (reproduced in full below), Mr Jeffrey describes the article by Michael Blackley as containing 'significant untruths' based on '"exclusive" briefings from parties with vested interests'. By this he means hostile councillors.
Jeffrey goes on to question the piece's journalistic standards, and wonders whether to ascribe the combination of inaccuracy, 'opinion and hearsay' to 'laziness or bias'. He concludes by reaffirming Edinburgh Trams's commitment to completing the full line to Newhaven.
In a statement issued to the media (also reproduced below), Councillor Gordon Mackenzie (Convenor of CEC's Transport, Environment and Infrastructure Committee) also criticises innacurate and 'sensationalist' reporting in the News.
Whilst conceding that a break from the contractor is being discussed, and that section-by-section phasing-in of the route is one option under consideration, he, too, reaffirms a commitment to connecting the Airport and Newhaven by tram.
Mackenzie takes great care to stress the 'monumental difference between where the current contractor could leave the project and the delivery of the full route'.
The perception that standards have slipped at the Evening News over recent years is widely held across Edinburgh. But for an alleged instance of poor practice to be anatomised so publicly and with such vehemence is extraordinary. It will be interesting to see whether senior staff at Scotsman Publications Ltd are still capable of feeling embarrassment.
Your article on the Edinburgh trams “Leithed Out” (Wednesday 23rd June 2010) yet again contains significant untruths, and supplies speculations as fact. If your reporters are reduced to simply repeating ‘exclusive’ briefings from parties with vested interests, then they are doing your paper, your readers and this city no favours.
Earlier this week, in advance of Thursday’s council meeting, I gave separate (but identical) detailed briefings to all the political parties at the council explaining to them exactly where we are, and exactly what the options going forward are. I have also kept the Scottish Government fully informed.
If one of those groups then decides to take part of that briefing, and portray one of the options as ‘fact’ then this is understandable, there are, after all many political agendas running, especially in the north of the city, and this is and always has been a politically controversial project. What is not understandable is why a professional journalist should take these briefings and not question the motives or the facts behind such a briefing. Is this laziness or bias?
In particular paragraphs 1 and 2 were factually incorrect, the rest of the article is opinion or hearsay. I am also disappointed that you did not include the commitment from my organisation to complete the full line to Newhaven.
Not your finest hour.
Clarification – Tram line will not stop at York Place [Cllr Gordon Mackenzie]
A report by the Edinburgh Evening News today incorrectly states that the tram line will end in the city centre in a new deal to be struck with the contractor Bilfinger Berger.
This is not the case. There is a monumental difference between where the current contractor could leave the project and the delivery of the full route.
I state again as I have previously that the commitment is to have trams running from the Airport to Newhaven.
We have, however talked about the possibility of phasing in the full route and this is one of the options under consideration as stated in the report that will go before Councillors tomorrow.
There are discussions going on regarding where the contractor could leave the project and these options have been shared with councillors.
I must clarify again that contrary to this sensationalist piece of reporting, Edinburgh Trams are committed to building the full route and will comment publicly on how this could be delivered once the contractual dispute has been settled.