Major projects will support 40,000 jobs - Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon revealed that government building would support over 40,000 jobs. Picture: Jane Barlow
Nicola Sturgeon revealed that government building would support over 40,000 jobs. Picture: Jane Barlow
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NICOLA Sturgeon sought to defend the Scottish Government’s record on building schools, roads and hospitals to revive the economy yesterday, as she published a £3 billion list of works carried out last year.

• Scottish Government published update to Infrastructure Investment Plan (IIP), which includes projects planned and underway across Scotland up to 2030

• Programme on course to spend £3.1 bn for 2012/13, which is estimated to support over 40,000 jobs in Scotland’s economy

• Projects due for completion include four high schools, Aberdeen Community Health and Care Village and the Glasgow School of Art estate development

About 40,000 jobs have been supported across Scotland by government-driven projects, according to Ms Sturgeon, the nfrastructure secretary.

But many schemes have run tens of millions of pounds over budget, while others have been hit by delays, according to opposition parties and business leaders.

The Deputy First Minister was even accused of spending too much time watching the Danish political drama Borgen, of which she is a fan, instead of focusing on Scotland’s economy.

The construction industry has been hammered in the recent downturn, with up to 50,000 jobs lost in recent years and many smaller firms going under.

The SNP government blames the fall on Westminster spending cuts, which has slashed capital funding in Scotland by about £330 million next year and by 26 per cent in the current three-year spending period.

Ms Sturgeon yesterday published a progress report on the SNP’s 20-year infrastructure investment plan (IIP), which was first published in late 2011.

It sets out major projects such as the Forth replacement crossing and bringing high-speed rail north of the Border, but also includes smaller schemes, such as local road projects and health and community centres around the country.

Ms Sturgeon said: “This government is determined to invest in Scotland’s infrastructure – our schools, roads and hospitals – both to stimulate growth in the short term and lay the foundations for long-term success.

“That is good news for our economy and our construction industry, which we know benefits from the certainty and vision of the future the Infrastructure Investment Plan provides.

“While everything in the IIP is possible under the current constitutional arrangements, with the full powers of independence and prudent use of borrowing powers, we could bring forward investment more quickly.”

First Minister Alex Salmond has said capital spending on major building schemes is the key to reversing economic decline and has demanded extra cash from London to pour into “shovel-ready” projects around Scotland.

However, he has come under fire in recent months over an absence of projects being delivered on the ground, with just £20m spent through the SNP’s flagship non-profit distribution (NPD) scheme this year, despite £350m having been initially earmarked.

But ministers say that in 2012, nine of the major infrastructure projects included in the government’s plans, with a value of over £600m, were completed and are now in use. And overall spending on building schemes will jump from £3.1bn in 2012-13 to £3.4bn in 2013-14.

The most recent GDP figures from last week showed that Scotland has emerged from recession, but the country has been dipping in and out of downturn since the banking crash of 2008.

The progress report includes the Aberdeen western peripheral route (AWPR) bypass road which had previously been estimated to cost £295m, but has risen to £650m. The A90 upgrade between Balmedie and Tipperty, formerly projected to cost between £53m and £63m, is now expected to cost £92m.

Improvements to the M8, M73 and M74 are coming in at £415m, compared with £280m last year, and the timescale for the Stornoway to Ullapool ferry project has slipped by a year to 2014.

Tory infrastructure spokesman Alex Johnstone branded Ms Sturgeon’s list the “lack of progress report”.

He added: “What we have is a list of schemes that are running over budget or behind schedule, then a newish list with no detail on where the money will come from or how it will be delivered.

Labour said an extra £330m which came to Scotland from Chancellor George Osborne’s recent Budget should all go on housing.

Labour’s infrastructure spokesman Richard Baker said: “When this plan was first announced, we said it was a wish-list. Since then, projects have been further delayed and we now know that of £353m which was meant to be invested in key projects this year, only £20m is actually being spent.”

He added: “No wonder only one in eight Scots trusts Nicola Sturgeon. She needs to spend less time with her Borgen DVDs and more time delivering for Scotland.”

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie also said the Scottish Government had not set out how it would spent the extra cash from Westminster.

“If the Scottish Government got its act together, it could work faster on projects such as speedier rail links to Inverness and Aberdeen and dualling of the A9,” he said.

CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan voiced concern that projects announced last year had not been delivered quickly enough.

“I would urge the government to take heed of the business community’s concerns and make sure these projects stay on schedule, in turn allowing businesses to plan ahead,” he said.

Garry Clark, head of policy at the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, also voiced “reservations” about the government’s performance over the past year, including the £350m funding cut from the Edinburgh-Glasgow rail improvement project.

He added: “Ten years ago, it could be said that the Aberdeen western peripheral route was ‘shovel-ready’, but even now we are some 18 months away from the commencement of construction.

“We have also waited for too long for progress on extending Scotland’s digital connectivity and we will have to move quickly to get our country up to speed against international competitors.

“We welcome the ambition of government in setting out its plans, but this needs to be matched by delivery.”