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A9 Dualling: The timeline of the Scottish Government’s decisions – who knew what and when

By Scott Maclennan

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One stretch of dualled A9 between Daviot and Tomatin – how many more will there be?
One stretch of dualled A9 between Daviot and Tomatin – how many more will there be?

The A9 dualling saga started with a keynote SNP manifesto promise in 2007 and is due to come to some conclusion next week in Holyrood when the Scottish Government delivers its much delayed update.

By that time we will know whether the multiple manifesto pledges that the party campaigned on were as "cast-iron" as First Minister Humza Yousaf said or not worth the paper they were printed on.

This timeline based on internal government papers by the authoritative Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) provides the clearest insight yet into what happened behind the scenes at the highest level.

It reveals how the government adopted an approach in 2018 that made it unachievable to reach the 2025 deadline but said nothing publicly. It also reveals that the first tremors of doubt about the deadline came in 2017.

The Scottish Government got the first indication the 2025 deadline for the completion of the A9 in 2017 in an email to Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Keith Brown.

At that time officials outlined that if there were further delays beyond April 2018 then they "would increase the risk of not achieving 2025.”

But just three months later Mr Brown confirmed that the government “is on target” to meet the 2025 completion date at a meeting of the Rural Economy Connectivity Committee.

This is just one example of what has outraged many in what is a secretive saga that may end by the government pulling the plug or delivering its promises.

28 May 2012

Advice to Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and capital investment and minister for housing and transport: A9 upgrade to dual carriageway notes sets out the initial, high-level financial, delivery and communications plan for the A9 dualling project.

Confirms “challenging but achievable” 2025 completion date and £3 billion estimated cost. States that the project funding route is to be decided.

5 September 2013

Ministerial engagement briefing between the Minister for Transport and Veterans and the moderator of the Free Church of Scotland in Inverness. States that “We expect to have around one third of the dualling completed by 2021 and over half completed only a year later”

31 October 2016

Ministerial briefing on predicted capital demand for the A9 dualling programme Briefing setting out the capital budget required for delivery of the A9 dualling by 2025. 2017-18: £64m 2018-19: £108m 2019-20: £290m 2020-21: £369m 2021-22: £450m 2022-23: £513m 2023-24: £455m 2024-25: £454m 2025-26: £276m. Total: £2.979 billion

7 September 2017

The first mention of the 2025 deadline being at risk came in an email to Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Keith Brown. Officials outline concerns about delays to the co-creative process for the Dunkeld and Birnam section, stating that “…if we can conclude the co-creative process in April 2018, the timeline for the completion of the project by 2025 [REDACTED]. Further slippage beyond April would increase the risk of not achieving 2025.”

19 December 2017

Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work confirms the government “is on target” to meet the 2025 completion date to the Rural Economy Connectivity Committee with draft orders for Pitlochry-Killiecrankie published on 15 December 2017 and for GlenGarry-Dalwhinnie and Dalwhinnie-Crubenmore on 19 December 2017.

27 June 2018

Briefing for new Cabinet Secretary for Transport Cabinet Secretary for Transport on the A9 dualling programme, which confirms that the project remains within the £3 billion budget. But it notes recent press speculation about whether the project can be completed by 2025, stating “The Scottish Government remains committed to dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness by 2025 – and we remain on target to meet that commitment.”

12 August 2018

A response to a ministerial request for information on possible private financing of the A9 and the A96 dualling projects notes that delivery of these programmes within their 2025 and 2030 deadlines will require annual capital funding between financial years 2022-23 and 2025-26 of £800m to £900m. AND that pursuing a private financing model would mean the 2025 deadline would not be met.

19 November 2018

An extract from a Cabinet briefing paper reveals a major problem. It states: “The forward capital plan assumes one further capital funded A9 project after Luncarty-Birnam.” It continues: “Recognising the time it will take to develop and procure a private financed solution for the remainder of A9 programme. The revised approach to delivery will mean the 2025 timescale is not achievable with the end date yet to be determined based on market appetite and the packaging of the remaining projects.”

18 March 2019

The first clear example of relevant information being withheld or not proffered. A general briefing for Cabinet Secretary for Transport on the A9 project for appearance before the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee – it mentions the £3 billion budget but not the 2025 completion date despite the previous cabinet briefing from 19 November 2018 .

21 May 2019

A briefing for Cabinet Secretary for Transport about the funding of future sections of the A9 programme mentions the Scottish Futures Trust appraisal of profit-sharing schemes and its recommendation to use a version of the Welsh Government’s Mutual Investment Model (MIM). It also notes agreement between Cabinet Secretary for Transport and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work Derek Mackay that the A9 programme could be funded through a revenue financed approach.

18 February 2020

A ministerial budget briefing notes concerns about the environmental impact of road construction projects, stating that “The Green party have repeatedly made calls (including Patrick Harvie at FMQs on 30 Jan) for a “climate emergency” budget and are strongly in favour of axing road upgrades such as A9 and A96 dualling programmes….” Goes on to reiterate Scottish Government support for A9 dualling.

17 March 2020

General briefing on A9 project progress for Michale Matheson for an appearance at Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. It mentions the £3 billion budget but not the 2025 deadline and does not directly mention the private finance approach to future procurement which is known would break the promise to dual the road by 2025.

6 May 2020

Extract from Covid-19 briefing for Cabinet Secretary for Transport stating that “…depending on the duration of Covid19 restrictions and measures being enforced, the commitment to complete the dualling by 2025 is anticipated to become increasingly more challenging and unlikely to be achievable”.

7 July 2020

Extract from a submission sent to Cabinet Secretary for Transport states that “Aside from the completion of the existing section and progressing one further section, the remainder of the A9 dualling is being progressed through the Mutual Investment Model (MIM) private finance. However, significant preparation, land and enabling works still require capital funding…” Identifies the following requirement for traditional capital funding with the proviso that “Assumes one further section of Design and Build and remainder funded by MIM”: 2021-22: £374.2m 2022-23: £589.5m 2023-24: £388.3m TOTAL: £1.352 billion

10 July 2020

Extract from submission sent to Cabinet Secretary for Transport states “…the proposal to fund the remainder of the A9 dualling by MIM is still being developed and the procurement strategy will need Ministerial approval…Funding the remainder of the A9 through MIM would mean that completion by 2025 would not be achievable, as the procurement phases for private finance contracts take considerably longer than traditional Design and Build contracts. Initial indications are that the earliest date by which completion may be achieved through this means would be 2028 but it is too early to say definitely whether this would be likely to be achieved.”

10 August 2020

An extract from a briefing on the spending review and infrastructure investment plan for Cabinet Secretary for Transport includes the A9 project the capital spending proposals for years 2021-22 to 2025-26, noting that they will require to be revised as “Given the delay in being able to progress this option [Mutual Investment Model] it is likely that the timescales will be pushed out significantly.”

11 August 2020

A briefing for Cabinet Secretary for Transport in advance of a Cabinet meeting contains speaking notes that state “As with other portfolios I have engaged with officials to significantly improve the TIC projections in order to address targets and reflect measures that are anticipated to be funded by the Carbon Fund. The measures taken however include changes in respect of some long-standing political commitments in relation to road improvement projects that will prevent us from completion of dualling the A9 by 2025.”

24 August 2020

Extract from a Cabinet Secretary for Transport briefing on capital funding confirms that the “revised profile with MIM not achieved by 2025” and the proposed spending on the A9 would be savagely cut: 2021-22: £32.5m 2022-23: £43.6m 2023-24: £70.9m 2024-25: £41.0m 2025-26: £41.6m TOTAL: £229.6 million down from £1.352 billion in July 2020.

23 December 2021

A discussion paper for Ministers evaluates the costs and benefits of pursuing a traditionally capital funded approach or a privately financed, revenue funded option.

It is revealed that earliest programme completion dates are 2034 (for capital) or 2032 (for revenue). So over a 30-year period the cost has risen sharply to £4.532bn (capital) or £7.179bn (revenue).

4 February 2022

A briefing pack for a meeting between Transport Scotland officials, the Transport Minister and the Cabinet Secretaries for Finance and Economy and Net Zero Energy and Transport. It reiterated the earliest programme completion dates of 2034 (capital) or 2032 (revenue). Net Present Value of £2.078bn (capital) or £1.945bn (revenue). Nominal total capital and revenue costs over a 30-year period of £4.532bn (capital) or £7.179bn (revenue).

28 November 2022

An extract from a briefing for the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero Energy and Transport (NZET) for a meeting with Greens MSP Mark Ruskell revealed that “…the unfunded over commitment from the Capital Spending Review refresh (CSR) relating to the dualling of the A9. Should NZET receive a reduced CSR allocation, the funding gap will be between £160 million and £235 million and while a number of savings options have been identified, in order to close the gap, we would (alongside a number of other actions) need to cease works on the A9…”

5 December 2022

Extract from the Scottish Budget sent to Ministers in advance of publication shows a table indicating a reduction in funding for the Tomatin-Moy section from £28.610 million to £1,610 million. It states the “...need to revisit tender due to increased costs, Value for Money (VfM) issues. Market conditions and vfm assessment unlikely to change in 2023- 24. Indicates a reduction in the “A9 dualling programme” budget from £31,338 million to £1.338 million. States “Market conditions and vfm assessments make pausing the project a preferred option for 2023-24”.

7 December 2022

A submission to Deputy First Minister, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero Energy and Transport and Minister for Transport reveals not just that the cabinet had not decided how to procure the programme but was now considering two options. The first was “pausing the programme in its entirety for an indefinite period” or “progressing certain elements of the programme.

23 January 2023

A briefing note for the Minister for Transport’s meeting with A9 Dual Action Group focussed on “highlighting short-term road safety works, ongoing work on the wider A9 programme including procurement of Tomatin-Moy, and exercise looking into future procurement options.”

31 January 2023

Submission to Deputy First Minister, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero Energy, and Transport and Minister for Transport which proposes a ministerial statement and mentions the re-tendering of Tomatin-Moy, and confirming that the A9 programme 2025 deadline is no longer achievable. Also contains: “Several redacted sections.”

2 February 2023

Briefing pack for meeting between First Minister, Deputy First Minister, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero Energy, and Transport and Minister for Transport. It contains “considerable redactions”. The paper also states that “While the public know the 2025 completion date of the programme is generally accepted as no longer credible, the lack of certainty around a new date will also be received negatively”.

The Ministerial statement announced that “…it is clear that the A9 Dualling programme will not be completed in full by 2025”. The paper also includes a media handling strategy, draft press release, draft ministerial statement, and Ministerial briefing for possible questions in Parliament following the statement.

3 February 2023

Update to ministerial statement – sent to Minister for Transport, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero Energy and Transport with an email confirming to the Minister that the 2025 completion date would not be replaced by another at the present time.

8 February 2023

Final version of statement delivered by Minister for Transport to the Scottish Parliament.

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