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A9 inquiry finds reasons why the programme failed remain 'murky' amid government secrecy

By Scott Maclennan

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Jackson Carlaw is leading the A9 Inquiry as convener of the petitions committee. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Jackson Carlaw is leading the A9 Inquiry as convener of the petitions committee. Picture: Callum Mackay.

The MSP leading the A9 inquiry that is striving to pin down exactly what went wrong and when with the dualling programme feels that clear explanations remain elusive.

Jackson Carlaw, the convener of the Scottish Parliament’s petition’s committee, heard from representatives of the civil engineering sector and high ranking current and former Transport Scotland bosses.

Mr Carlaw underlined an aim of the probe was to establish why the programme came off the rails and “at what point all that started to become less clear and murky.”

Grahame Barn, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) Scotland .
Grahame Barn, chief executive of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) Scotland .

Grahame Barn, the chief executive of Civil Engineering Contractors Association Scotland offered the view of the sector, saying one explanation was a lack of “political will” to fund it.

“I have no evidence to back up this at all,” he said. “But I believe it would be the political will to provide the funding required to do the job, just wasn't there when required – that would be my assertion.

“I believe the target [2025] was achievable, it was difficult and challenging but it was achievable but other, perhaps political, priorities took over and funding was either diverted away or was never there in the first place.”

He added: “And once there is drift on any project of that size and scale then it is very difficult to make up very quickly – so that's the issue, is that I think there was a promise made and almost from a political standpoint it was ‘job done’.

'Less clear and murky'

The evidence session examined the likelihood the new 2035 deadline would met Transport Scotland's interim chief executive Alison Irvine who was confident but added "nothing is without risk."

While former boss of the agency Roy Bannen insisted that there was cash there when he needed to build sections but that statutory processes took a long time.

Mr Carlaw offered a polite but critical assessment of what Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government have said so far in written and oral testimony.

“One of the things, I think, many people have been keen to identify is why there was a very clear track line towards delivery of a project by 2025 and at what point all that started to become less clear and murky,” he said.

“Looking at the [government] papers, it just struck me that it was around about 2018 to 2019 that this drift seemed to materialise.

“And that was not communicated to the public or to the wider world and we still thought 2025 was the project delivery date, nor was it in hand but it looks to me at that point as if there's serious reservation and doubt about it all internally.”

Colin Marr. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Colin Marr. Picture: Callum Mackay..

'Variable approach to funding'

Those points were earlier supported by submissions made from the UK's largest independent road safety charity, IAM RoadSmart view, and the Inverness Chamber of Commerce in written submissions that emerged last week.

The Inverness Chamber of Commerce issued a scathing submission saying a “lack of commitment” on dualling the A9 lies at the heart of a failure that led to avoidable loss of life and damaged the growth potential of the Highlands.

Chief executive of the chamber, Colin Marr, firmly believes the original timetable would have been achievable with strength of conviction.

The chamber’s submission states: “It is our view that the primary reason for failing to meet this deadline was a lack of commitment.

"We can’t know whether that lack of commitment was from government ministers or from officials at Transport Scotland, but there is sufficient expert evidence to support the notion that the original timetable was achievable.

“The lack of commitment has been exacerbated by procurement methods that sought to pass an unreasonable level of risk to contractors. Lack of progress has limited the growth potential of Highland businesses and has, almost certainly, led to loss of life that could have been avoided.”

The chamber noted that “the whole community served by the A9 feels let down” by the lack of Scottish Government commitment to complete dualling by 2025.

IAM RoadSmart said the A9 dualling was not helped by the Scottish Government's "variable approach to funding" or its reluctance to acknowledge when it became "obvious" the work was never going to meet the 2025 deadline.

Its submission said: "It has been clear for years that [the original 2025] target cannot be met and yet the Scottish Government left it until the last minute to confirm the obvious.

"This simply delayed the possibility of further discussion on alternative funding approaches and contractual changes.”

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