SNP ministers had “serious concerns” that they were being briefed against and misled by the quango behind the Edinburgh trams project.

They also considered the financial risks involved in the project to be “extremely worrying”, according to official papers released by the National Records of Scotland today. 

With forecast costs rising, whether to press ahead with the trams was one of the earliest headaches for Alex Salmond’s first administration.

The party opposed the project, but on 22 May 2007, Finance Secretary John Swinney told the very first meeting of the SNP cabinet that cancelling the trams and the dedicated Edinburgh Airport Rail Link (EARL) schemes would cost up to £125million and £50m respectively.

On 5 June, Mr Swinney put a paper to cabinet suggesting alternatives to the trams and EARL, including a new rail spur to the airport and a “segregated busway” from Haymarket. 

He said that “in light of his increasing concern over the robustness of the processes used to assess costs and risks”, he had asked the Auditor General to review the forecast costs.

He also said he had been “surprised to discover only very recently that the final business case for the trams project had not been signed-off by the previous Government” under Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The minutes then record that in discussion the following points were made: 

“The concerns that had been raised over the risks, financial assessments and process around these transport projects, and issues coming to light with other strategic transport projects, were extremely worrying. 

“There were serious concerns about not only the quality and reliability of the information for Ministers which had been forthcoming from Transport Initiatives Edinburgh (TIE) but also the approach the publicly-funded body was taking in briefing against the Government.”

In late June, the minority Scottish Government reluctantly dropped its opposition to the trams project, but only after suffering its first major defeat at Holyrood, when then Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander pushed for it to go ahead based on its previous budget.

Mr Swinney said at the time: “We didn’t want the trams project but parliament has voted for it”, adding that EARL had “had it”.

Set up by City of Edinburgh Council, TIE would later be blamed for mismanaging the trams project, which ran £375m over budget and three years late.