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Transport secretary Fiona Hyslop on the A9 dualling: 'If you're open with people, they can understand'

By Scott Maclennan

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Transport secretary Fiona Hyslop. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Transport secretary Fiona Hyslop. Picture: Callum Mackay..

Transport secretary Fiona Hyslop has said it would be “wise” in future to tell the public about any delays to the renewed A9 programme because “that allows everybody to at least understand what the challenges are.”

She was speaking to The Courier after her first official trip to the Highlands since becoming the first Scottish Government cabinet secretary that is solely dedicated to the transport brief.

The drop-in sessions which started today in Inverness are part of the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland efforts to build confidence and a greater understanding in the programme after missing the 2025 deadline.

Among those present were leading A9 dualling campaigner Laura Hansler; MP Drew Hendry; MSP Rhoda Grant; Colin Marr, chief executive of the Inverness Chamber of Commerce and senior figures from Highland Council and Police Scotland among others.

Several speakers at the stakeholder event raised issues about how those in charge of the dualling can win back public confidence in the programme – described as one of the biggest and most challenging infrastructure projects in Scotland.

Wise to be open

In fact taken as whole at its current value of £3.7 billion it is one of the largest projects in Europe so when asked if she would be frank with the public should fresh delays to the renewed dualling programme emerged she said that would be “wise.”

“So I've always tried to work in an open and accountable way and I think my predecessors have [too],” she said.

“I understand that people have concerns about what information may have been shared but clearly in terms of the information that was shared with the inquiry I think it's quite clear that previous decisions had been made in good faith in relation to understanding private investment models at the time.

“In terms of where we are now, I think being open about decision-making is really important. That's why I want to encourage regular engagement with stakeholders – challenges are good, I think challenges help you improve and I think that's what we want to be able to do.

“So in terms of sharing successes, I'll certainly do that – sharing when there are problems? I think it's wise to do so because that allows everybody to at least understand what the challenges are.

“It will be a very ambitious project and undoubtedly with something that will be, I think, the single biggest infrastructure project that'll be facing Scotland, there will be challenges.

She added: “But I think if you're open with people, they can understand when those challenges do happen.”

No doubts about finance

Ms Hyslop was also asked if the financial review of the new private finance model – dubbed the mutual investment model or MIM – in 2025 casts any doubt over the completion of the dualling.

She said: “So, the last few months I've seen a very focused examination of what models would work for the delivery and completion of the A9 and the decisions of ministers after consideration was to combine design and build with a mutual investment model.

“Clearly, in terms of the volatility of markets, we've seen that for lots of different reasons – whether it's Brexit or in terms of what's happened in other aspects of the UK government’s handling of the UK finances.

“That's caused issues within France markets so it's really important that decisions about using the mutual investment model are made at the right time to get best value for the public purse, which I think everybody would want to see.

“But in terms of that combination of design and build through traditional capital a mutual investment using finance – the timing of both of those different models allows us to progress the different sections.

“And in terms of certainty I think people would expect in charging times for the government to make the right decision, whether to go with their private investment model, which would be revenue finances versus capital in the future for those sections is the correct one to do rather than pre-judge it.

“Why is that important? Because right across government we're facing a 10 per cent reduction in capital in future years because of decisions of the UK government so we have to be very acutely aware of not only that reduction but also construction inflation, etc, to make the right decision at the right time.

“So timing is really important. So locking in funding for different projects actually prevents you from being agile and making decisions at the appropriate time.”

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