RHODA GRANT: A9 dualling statement was a missed opportunity
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By Rhoda Grant
A flurry of activity came in the Parliament before the Christmas break, with the Scottish Government announcing their budget for the coming year and a long-anticipated, long-overdue update on dualling the A9.
Before moving on to those issues, the Scottish Government recently announced a six-month delay to rolling out the National Good Food Nation Plan. At a time when the NHS is under real strain; the health, social and economic costs of poor diet is increasing, meaning action is already urgent.
Access to healthy, nutritious food is a human right but this needs to underpinned and reinforced by a commitment in law. That is why my proposed Right to Food Bill would enshrine the human right to food into Scots Law. It would create a legal requirement to ensure everyone has sufficient access to good quality food. I will be pushing this cause in 2024 to target food poverty and poor nutrition.
It was welcome news that there appears to be progress on the A9 in 2024, with the Tomatin to Moy section completion date being set. Beyond this, it was really disappointing not to receive more concrete action being committed to in the coming years, with 2035 given as the finished timeline for work. This is a delay of 10 years.
Over the last 16 years, just two sections, totalling 11 miles of road have been completed. The announcement of just one section to be dualled in the next four years is not going to pacify anger at the lack of progress. This statement was an opportunity to really commit to faster progress. It was an opportunity to make good on the promise made to the people of the Highlands. Sadly, this is another opportunity missed, and many people will have legitimate doubt as to whether the SNP will meet these new deadlines, and how they fund the projects. I will continue to push for the government to prioritise action on the A9 and ensure spades go in the ground as set out.
The Scottish budget, delivered by the Deputy First Minister, made for gloomy reading, with large cuts across the board.
The budget contains deep public service cuts, agriculture support raided, with no timeline when this money will be returned to farmers, Highlands and Islands Enterprise budget cut by £8 million, and significant tax rises.
Whilst the Scottish Government would like to point the finger elsewhere, these decisions are a direct result of SNP mismanagement and inability to grow the Scottish economy.
This will leave many people struggling financially, in what is already a challenging time of year. I would like to highlight support is available through services such as Citizens Advice, Independent advocacy, and Social Security Scotland, who can provide help, advice and access to services.
I would like to end this column by wishing everyone all the best for the new year. I will continue to proudly represent the Highlands and Islands and fight for issues that matter through 2024.
Rhoda Grant is Scottish Labour's MSP for the Highlands and Islands.