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DAVID SUTHERLAND: It’s time to step on the accelerator for roads projects

By David Sutherland

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Our front page signalled the end of the SNP’s pledge to dual the A9 by 2025.
Our front page signalled the end of the SNP’s pledge to dual the A9 by 2025.

The Courier’s wonderful gravestone front page over the Scottish Government’s broken pledge to dual the A9 by 2025 is still being talked about – and it’s important that the message gains traction in the mind of whoever emerges as the new SNP leader and First Minister.

There’s a new TV ad campaign about the risk of falling asleep at the wheel as it causes so many accidents on our main transport artery – but the bigger problem is that the Scottish Government’s been asleep at the wheel far too long when it comes to the A9 and A96. Time to step on the accelerator!

North businesses, too, must get into top gear to maximise the potential of the freeport which is landing in our laps.

After difficult years, the area’s economy is finally in a fortunate position going forward thanks to Opportunity Cromarty Firth’s selection by the UK and Scottish governments. Rishi Sunak has spelled out the potential benefits – but they require vision, investment and commitment from business leaders to make better times flow.

Over the years, we’ve had big announcements – but full advantage hasn’t been taken.

Easter Ross will, of course, gain from energy business but the inclusion of land round Caledonian Stadium, the harbour, the airport and the former McDermott yard combine to offer genuine opportunity for the Inverness-Nairn area – and on a scale we haven’t seen before.

David Sutherland.
David Sutherland.

Enterprising people who ensure their companies are top of the queue in opting to get involved in these places stand to become winners. So don’t be asleep at the wheel, start planning!

I gather that some existing businesses feel they risk being disadvantaged if firms at the stadium, harbour and Ardersier get tax breaks not enjoyed by those elsewhere in and around Inverness. There’s an element of unfairness, but the wider picture is that we’re lucky in where the freeport boundaries have been drawn in terms of an overall economic and employment boost.

It may well turn out that there will be some relocation from elsewhere locally to, say, the stadium or airport areas, to qualify for all the breaks and benefits.

As far as the freeport sparking inward investment goes, the UK cash for the freeport must be backed up by the Scottish Government green-lighting the desperately overdue A9 upgrade.

As well as the change of First Minister and the arrival of the freeport, the landscape is changing again with a wide-ranging ‘think tank’ flagging up the problems Brexit is causing business.

I’d like to see the UK government admit that Brexit has turned out to be wishful thinking with the rolling out of lucrative trade agreements just not really happening. Admitting there is a problem is the first step towards solving one.

Highland exports have been hindered by the new red tape separating us from Europe, our biggest market, while farmers are at risk from trade agreements that are being negotiated.

The encouraging signs are that Rishi Sunak wishes to have an improved relationship with the EU.

Whisky is, of course, our biggest export and I hope the Scottish Government, which has been consulting on a tougher alcohol sponsorship approach, sees sense and backs off from the plan to ban drinks branding on giftware such as golf umbrellas.

Give our distillery visitor centres a break!

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