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A9 dualling: SNP leadership candidates promise action to speed up delivery

By Gregor White

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Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes all acknowledged major shortcomings in the dualling process. Picture: James Mackenzie
Ash Regan, Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes all acknowledged major shortcomings in the dualling process. Picture: James Mackenzie

All three candidates to be Scotland's next First Minister have promised to take action to improve delivery of A9 dualling.

There was fury last month when transport minister Jenny Gilruth announced that the project would not be completed by the 2025 deadline previously set.

Inverness and Nairn MSP Fergus Ewing branded it a "betrayal" of the Highlands and earlier this month Highland councillors agreed a joint motion calling for immediate publication of a new timetable for works and a public enquiry into the delays.

The Inverness Courier’s viral front page on the A9 – seen by at least half-a-million people – was also held up in the Scottish Parliament during the debate and Ms Gilruth apologised for the delays in an exclusive interview with the Courier.

At tonight's Inverness Courier Leadership Debate host Nicky Marr asked for a show of hands from the audience of around 200 in terms of who felt let down or angry at the broken promises on dualling.

Around 80 per cent indicated that they did.

Ash Regan told the audience that, as she had said previously on the campaign trail, she would make dualling of both the A9 and A96 a priority.

"In my first 100 days I will set out a new timeframe and get this work moving," she said.

Humza Yousaf, who was transport minister from 2016-2018, admitted the failure to make more progress was "a failure" and said: "If I am First Minister the first thing I will do is sit down with my finance secretary who I will appoint and say this is the priority and the budget has to reflect this."

Nicky Marr pushed the point that much of the delay was reportedly down to contractors being unwilling to bid for work where they were made to shoulder all the financial risk, to which Mr Yousaf said that both the government and the Scottish National Investment Bank, the state-owned national investment body, had to be more open to taking risk, while balancing that with acting responsibly in terms of the public purse.

As a Highland MSP, Kate Forbes insisted she had been pushing for faster progress on dualling and that she believed the way such infrastructure projects are delivered has to change if the SNP is to be seen as a "truly national party".

"We cannot be the party that just delivers for the central belt," she said.

Asked about how she would deliver that, she said: "That requires reform and review of our public bodies, many of which are headquartered in the central belt, to make sure they understand what it means to deliver, for example, major infrastructure in the north of Scotland, and I agree with your analysis when it comes to procurement."

And she added: "Going back to first principles, you're either a party that delivers for all of Scotland, and therefore maintain trust and continue with ongoing election success, or not, and I think it's that competent delivery that people want to see, and honesty when things are not going to plan."

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