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A9 committee inquiry opens with explosive testimony from former cabinet secretary Alex Neil

By Scott Maclennan

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Alex Neil on the A9 dualling.
Alex Neil on the A9 dualling.

Transport Scotland was responsible for the now “unachievable” 2025 deadline date, according to explosive testimony from Alex Neil on the first day of the committee inquiry into the failure of the A9 dualling programme.

The former cabinet secretary for infrastructure and capital investment, Mr Neil was the first witness to appear on Wednesday morning, after the petition by Kincraig campaigner Laura Hansler was escalated to an inquiry by the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee.

Revelations came thick and fast including: What the original timeline for each section was; how the money was secured well in advance from unallocated capital investment.

When it came to pursuing the programme after he left the role in September 2012 he pointed strongly that failings may have begun with two SNP grandees – his successor as cabinet secretary Nicola Sturgeon and finance boss John Swinney.

Mr Neil told the committee in his opening statement that the Scottish Government knew it couldn’t get to the work before 2015 so targeted unallocated capital funding from then until 2030 – of which there was more than £14.7 billion available.

He said: “I asked Transport Scotland to be realistic but ambitious. They assured me that both physically and financially it was perfectly feasible to achieve the dualling of the A9 between Inverness and Perth by 2025 and between Inverness and Aberdeen by 2030.”

Mr Neil then went on to state what the planned completion dates for each section was saying: “The outline programme for the A9 bit by bit, I am going to quickly read this out because I think it should be put in the record.

“Luncarty to Birnam – due to 2018/19; Birnam to Ballinluig – 2024; Pitlochry to Killiecrankie – 2022; Killiecrankie to Glengarry – 2024; Glengarry to Crubbenmore – 2024; Crubbenmore to Kincraig – 2025; Kincraig to Dalraddy – 2017; Dalraddy to Slochd – 2025; and Tomatin to Moy – 2021.”

He added: “I think it is extremely disappointing and extremely damaging to the Scottish economy and proportionally far more damaging to the Highlands and Islands than this well thought out project has not been completed, far less completed on time.”

When asked by petitions committee convener Jackson Carlaw what went wrong, he said: “The first thing is, I didn’t set a date and then ask officials to give me a programme to meet that date.

“I asked them for the date. I asked them: they had to be absolutely sure that physically all the work could be done as they recommended by 2025 and the money would be there under the finance department under John Swinney at the time.

“When it came to the pandemic it would be maybe fair to accept a delay of a year or maybe 18 months but until the pandemic came in 2020 there was in my view no excuse to miss these deadlines. That is the first point.”

He continued: “The second point is that I was reshuffled from the position in September 2012 so I became the cabinet secretary for health and wellbeing and Nicola Sturgeon took over my job for infrastructure and capital investment,

“One of the reasons I asked for a specific programme for how each section would be completed is that I know how bureaucracy works, I know what it is like – you have to nail down your advisors to make sure there is no wriggle room for excuses and delay.”

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