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Transport Scotland it is 'not in the public interest' to reveal A9 decisions

By Scott Maclennan

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Transport Scotland has declined to release details of sections of the A9 still waiting to be dualled.
Transport Scotland has declined to release details of sections of the A9 still waiting to be dualled.

The Scottish Government and Transport Scotland claim it is not in the public interest to reveal why shovel-ready sections of the A9 were not progressed when they could have been.

Transport Scotland rejected a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from the Inverness Courier, sister paper to the Northern Times, about one of the biggest public policy failures since devolution – missing the deadline to dual the A9 by 2025 – in order to maintain “high quality policy and decision-making”.

Inverness and Nairn MSP Fergus Ewing said he would back an appeal against that rejection and, if that was unsuccessful, would seek a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the issue.

The FOI sought information on why the Tay Crossing to Ballinluig; Pitlochry to Killiecrankie; Glen Garry to Dalwhinnie; Dalwhinnie to Crubenmore and Tomatin to Moy sections of the A9 were not progressed.

We asked for details about decision-making, discussions or debates about those decisions and correspondence between Transport Scotland and ministers, and the decisions themselves.

Transport Scotland argued an available exemption to release of information applies to internal communication between officials and Scottish ministers.

It said: “Taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exception,” before concluding that “on balance” it believes the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption.

“We recognise that there is some public interest in release as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate.

“However, this is outweighed by the public interest in maintaining high quality policy and decision-making, and in the properly considered implementation and development of briefing material, policies and decisions.”

MSP Fergus Ewing.
MSP Fergus Ewing.

Mr Ewing said: “The Scottish Government needs urgently to regain the trust and confidence of the people in the north.

“If they and Transport Scotland keep secret key documents containing advice – vital project and funding advice – from the public, people will then surely ask, ‘What is it that the Scottish Government have got to hide?’”

He added: “I hope that an appeal is made by this newspaper, first internally to Transport Scotland and then, if need be, to the Information Commissioner who often has overturned Scottish Government decisions in the past.

“So, I am now going to write to the Commissioner, enclosing a copy of the publicity on this, from this newspaper, in order to seek a discussion with him as to how he weighs up the public interest; and to establish if he accepts that, when lives are at stake, the public interest requires complete honesty and the utmost transparency.

“The dualling of the A9 is quite simply a matter of life and death.

“If I do not make progress with the commissioner, I shall then lodge a motion in parliament for debate calling on the Scottish Government to come clean by publishing all the documents.”

It was confirmed last week that the Scottish Parliament’s public petitions committee has upgraded A9 safety campaigner Laura Hansler’s petition on the matter to a formal committee inquiry, allowing it to probe deeper into the progress of the dualling programme over time.

She said of the FOI refusal: “The level of utter disdain is very apparent. It would seem that the taxpayers of the Highlands have no damn rights to ask what Transport Scotland and, therefore, the Scottish Government are doing with their monies.

“They seem to completely forget they are only in that job through elections and I sincerely hope people remember this at every polling booth opportunity.

“Why on earth would Transport Scotland seek to actively withhold information on parts of the road, four of which they have categorically told us are shovel ready?

“People must absolutely persist in pushing for answers – why is funding in major road projects (in the north) not as important to the Scottish Government as the central belt?”

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