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‘Real anger and mistrust’ at government’s inaction on A9 and A96

Fergus Ewing warns it could be 2050 by the time the A9 is dualled without a change in the tendering rules.

Inverness and Nairn SNP MSP Fergus Ewing. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson
Inverness and Nairn SNP MSP Fergus Ewing. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

A Highland MSP has called for an urgent change in the tendering rules to allow the A9 and A96 to be completed by 2030.

Otherwise, Fergus Ewing warns it will be 2040, or even 2050, before the work is finished.

Mr Ewing reminded First Minister Humza Yousaf that during the hustings in the SNP leadership campaign, he said that the A9 and A96 roads were a “top priority”.

The Inverness and Nairn MSP said: “Things are serious, and the mood is hardening to real anger over lack of progress on the A9 and in the A96. There is mistrust and people have had enough.

Inaction on progress for the A9 and A96

“People don’t want excuses, they want action.”

Mr Ewing asked a direct question of the first minister, he said: “Will you put your money where your mouth is?

“This is a big project that will take nearly all of the capital spend. It was earmarked by Mr Yousaf as a ‘top priority’, so will you make it happen?”

He added: “Unless the money is in place, we are being conned. I, for one, am not going to be putting up with being conned. The government has run out of excuses, detailed plans and timescales for this work need to follow immediately.”

Mr Ewing was speaking after an 18-year-old driver was killed on a section of the road last Friday. He was driving on a section of the road that is earmarked for upgrade.

Mr Ewing continued: “There are a number of quick measures that could be taken to make sure the road is upgraded.

A green road sign pointing to Inverness with the turn off for Grantown on Spey.
Fergus Ewing has asked for accurate timescales to be put in place.  Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

“I have been speaking with industry experts to try to understand why there was only one tender bid for the section of road that went ahead and Tomatin and Moy.

“If we continue to go through the competitive tendering process as it is at the moment, then it will be 2050 before work is completed.

He continued: “At the moment it costs anyone tendering for these contracts around £500,000 to put in a bid without any guarantee of success.”

As the design work has already been progressed by the government, Mr Ewing suggest that four or five companies should be guaranteed the work from the outset. He suggests this could be done under a “framework contract” as it is done in parts of England,and within Scottish Water.

Mr Ewing said: “The benefits of this are it avoids tender costs, each company can guarantee there will be work for the years the framework is in place allowing them to retain staff, there will be better prices for suppliers.

Road signs on the A9 for the turn off for Spean Bridge and Fort William.

The Ralia junction south of Newtonmore. Many of the junctions have poor road markings with many road signs and bollards requiring replacement. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson.”This is key we need to move away from the way we have been tendering work because it makes the Highlands less suitable.”

National benchmarking of costs

He suggests there are national benchmark costs that could be used to inform the framework. For example, the cost per mile of motorway that is a nationally agreed figure.

He said that in Scotland when a contract is passed to the preferred bidder, all the risk is passed to that contractor. Whereas in England these costs are shared.

“All the big construction companies will choose to take on work that is less risky, and work in Scotland is less competitive because of this. Who would choose to take on risk north of the border when they do not need to?”

Sympathies with family and friends

Minister for transport Kevin Stewart said: “My sympathies are very much with the family and friends of the deceased at this time.

“As police investigations into this incident are ongoing it would be inappropriate for me to comment further – however, as part of standard policy, officials will meet with the police and our operating company to obtain more detailed information.”

He continued: “On the A9 dualling programme more broadly, we remain firmly committed to completing the dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness.

“The £3billion investment – at 2008 prices – is one of the biggest transport infrastructure projects in Scotland’s history and we have already invested over £430m delivering the programme.

Transport Minister Kevin Stewart. Image: DC Thomson

He said a wider statement would be made to parliament in the autumn.

He continued: “The necessary steps for the new procurement of the Tomatin to Moy project are currently being progressed by officials.

“They are engaging with The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) and contractors, to consider improvements that can be made to both our contract delivery strategy and procurement mechanisms – in order to maximise interest and market engagement in the new procurement.”

He added: ““The Scottish Government remains absolutely committed to improving the A96.

“While the current plan is to fully dual the route we are undertaking a review of the corridor with outcomes expected to be ready for consultation this summer.

“We also remain absolutely committed to dualling the Inverness to Nairn section including the Nairn bypass and we continue to progress the preparation stages of the scheme with a view to completing the statutory process for that as soon as possible.”