Fury as Supertram report kept secret

A WHITEHALL watchdog was today accused of suppressing a report which could shed important new light on the Leeds Supertram fiasco.

The National Audit Office (NAO) published the findings of a lengthy investigation into the collapsed scheme in November last year.

It offered muted criticism of the Department for Transport's role in the project's failure, estimated to have cost taxpayers around 50m.

Westminster sources later told the Yorkshire Evening Post, however, that a draft version of the report delivered a more damning verdict on the Government's handling of the affair.

That revelation prompted a request from the YEP in early December for the draft report to be made public under the Freedom of Information Act.

On Wednesday, though, word arrived back from the NAO that the application had been turned down.

The draft report, said the spending watchdog, had been classed as exempt from disclosure because it included initial audit findings which had not been subject to "internal review procedures".

News of the decision was greeted with anger today by Leeds MP Greg Mulholland.

Mr Mulholland (Lib Dem, Leeds North West) said: "The people of Leeds have already been treated shoddily over Supertram. Now they are not being given access to potentially important conclusions - there is no excuse for that."

Coun Andrew Carter, leader of Tory-Lib Dem controlled Leeds City Council, said: "This is a disgrace. The suspicion must be that criticism is being suppressed."

A spokesman for the NAO said no attempt had been made to cover up any facts about Supertram.

The only reasons for the non-disclosure, he said, were those set out in the letter which the watchdog sent to the YEP this week.

West Yorkshire's passenger transport authority Metro, meanwhile, said it had no comment to make on the draft report.

However, Metro's director-general, Kieran Preston, has in the past said its release would be in the public interest.

Metro has also said it cannot divulge details from its copy of the draft because it was provided in confidence by the NAO.

Any breach of that arrangement, it is feared, could result in legal action.

The NAO launched its inquiry into Supertram in early 2006, shortly after the Government pulled the plug on the 500m light rail project amid concerns about spiralling costs.

Preliminary construction work had started in 2003 on the 28km system, which would have linked Leeds city centre with Lawnswood, Whinmoor and Stourton.

Plans are currently being drawn up for a 300m transport network - possibly powered electrically via overhead wires – to fill the gap left by Supertram's failure.

Barry McGrath.

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