Collapse of A9 dualling procurement sparks recriminations

13/02/2023
Chris Ames

The Scottish Government has caused fury among its own and opposition MSPs after announcing the failure of the procurement process for the third stage of the A9 Perth to Inverness dualling.

It has also been forced to finally admit that it will break its longstanding pledge to complete the programme by 2025.

Transport minister Jenny Gilruth told the Scottish Parliament that the procurement for the Tomatin to Moy section had only received one tender, the price of which was ‘significantly higher’ than expected, and that ministers had concluded that awarding the contract at this time ‘would not represent best value for the taxpayer’.

She added that she had asked Transport Scotland to begin a new procurement competition for the project, with the aim of achieving a contract award before the end of 2023.

This will include engagement with construction industry bodies with a view to modifying elements of Transport Scotland’s standard contractual terms and conditions for such projects.

She said: ‘I fully appreciate that this will be disappointing news for many people. However, I want to be absolutely clear to the communities and businesses served by the A9 between Perth and Inverness, that the Scottish Government’s commitment to dualling the section between Tomatin and Moy is unaffected.’

Ms Gilruth blamed ‘external factors’, including the pandemic, disruption caused by Brexit, and the war in Ukraine, with the inflationary impacts of those all significantly affecting the construction market.

She blamed the same factors for the failure to complete A9 dualling in full by 2025.

Ms Gilruth said: ‘It is true that the target date set always represented an ambitious challenge. It was reliant on the timely and positive outcome of a range of factors such as completing public and stakeholder consultation; statutory approval processes; market capacity; supply chain availability and availability of funding, all of which have been significantly impacted by the events I outlined earlier. This has made this 2025 date simply unachievable.’

The minister said Transport Scotland was urgently considering a range of different options to provide advice to ministers on the most efficient way to dual the remaining sections.

She added: ‘I expect to have that advice by autumn 2023 at which time I will update Parliament to put forward a renewed timescale for completion.’

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser pointed out that 12 people had died in 2022 on single carriageway sections of the A9 and complained of ‘empty words, repeated over and over again, about an unwavering commitment’.

Veteran SNP MSP Fergus Ewing repeated his call for a parliamentary inquiry into the poor performance of the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland.

He wrote: ‘Many believe the approach taken by Transport Scotland is too slow and that civil engineering companies are no longer willing to bid for roads contracts because of low margins and high risk.’

However, he also suggested that the SNP’s deal with the Scottish Green Party may be to blame and that the Scottish Government needed to ‘show that the Green Party is not a tail that wags the dog’.

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