Rishi Sunak speech: Scottish Tories demand HS2 money used by Scottish Government to ‘urgently upgrade’ A9
Money due to come to the Scottish Government as a result of Rishi Sunak pledging support for major transport schemes after axing HS2 should be used to "urgently upgrade" the A9, the Scottish Conservatives have said.
The Prime Minister promised to “reinvest every single penny, £36 billion, in hundreds of new transport projects in the North and the Midlands, across the country”.
This includes the creation of what he has named ‘Network North’, which involves improvements to road, rail and bus schemes, and will see money go towards upgrading the A75 between Gretna and Stranraer to boost links with Northern Ireland via ferries.
Labour said “almost all” of the schemes announced by Mr Sunak “had already been part of Government plans so cannot be described as new investments nor reinvestments”.
The Prime Minister defied senior Tories and business leaders to use his conference speech yesterday to scrap HS2 from Birmingham to Manchester, saying “the facts have changed” and the cost of the high-speed rail scheme had “more than doubled”. The issue has overshadowed the Tory conference in Manchester.
The original plan was for the A9 to be completely dualled between Perth and Inverness by 2025, but there are now concerns it won’t be done until at least 2050.
Scottish Conservative shadow transport minister Graham Simpson said: “The UK Government are leading the way when it comes to upgrading road infrastructure across the UK, and it is time for the SNP-Green government to follow suit.
“SNP-Green ministers should commit to using Barnett consequential funding coming their way as a result of Network North to urgently upgrade the A9.
“They have made painstakingly slow progress on dualling the A9, despite first promising to do so in 2007. That has only led to more people tragically losing their lives and harmed the economy in the communities the road serves.”
First Minister Humza Yousaf has previously made it clear work to dual the A9 will not be completed before the next Holyrood election in May 2026, while insisting the Government is still “absolutely committed” to the programme.
Documents published yesterday by the UK Government said: “As part of this package of investment, we are strengthening connections across the United Kingdom. We are improving journeys on the A75between Gretna and Stranraer.
"Following recommendations in the Union Connectivity Review, we will alleviate pinch points on the road, providing better links between the Cairnryan ferry terminals serving Northern Ireland and south-west Scotland, connecting with the M6 and Cumbria, and the A77 towards Glasgow.”
The Scottish Government had previously submitted a draft business case to upgrade the A75 to Westminster.
It is yet to be confirmed exactly what amount in terms of Barnett consequentials the Scottish Government will receive from the ‘Network North’ package.
Mr Sunak confirmed the HS2 scheme would run to Euston in central London, rather than terminating at Old Oak Common in the capital’s western suburbs, but promised to get a grip on the costs of the project.
He said the new plan for Euston would save £6.5bn compared with HS2’s vision.
SNP's Westminster depute leader Mhairi Black did not address the issue of funding for Scotland, but said: "Rishi Sunak's speech underlines that no promise made by the Tories can ever be taken seriously.
"During their time in power, the Tories' have failed time and time again to deliver on Scotland's priorities – while simultaneously crashing the economy, fuelling a cost of living crisis, and plunging tens of thousands of families across the UK into poverty.”
In his keynote speech, Mr Sunak, who presented himself as a politician who would take long-term decisions to fundamentally change the country, also set out a plan to effectively ban smoking. He proposed raising the smoking age one year, every year, meaning a 14-year-old today could never legally be sold cigarettes.
Health policy linked to smoking is a devolved power, meaning SNP ministers would need to legislate for similar restrictions in Scotland.
But it is a policy move the Scottish Government is likely to be open to matching, with ministers having previously outlined they wanted to "raise a tobacco free generation by 2034”.
The Prime Minister’s view is controversial within a party that has a tendency to reject measures which curtail individual freedom, and Mr Sunak said there would be a free vote in the Commons with his MPs not whipped to back the plan.
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