A9 dualling: Further delay while new transport minister Fiona Hyslop considers Tomatin-Moy contract
Dualling the A9 between Inverness and Perth has been further delayed by a change of transport minister.
A re-run of the competition to widen the next section of the road had been expected to be announced this week, but MSPs were told on Wednesday that new minister Fiona Hyslop was reviewing it.
Jenny Gilruth, one of her predecessors, said in February she hoped the contract for the six-mile stretch between Tomatin and Moy would be awarded by the end of 2023. But a Transport Scotland official told the Scottish Parliament’s citizen participation and public petitions committee the timescale was already “extremely tight”.
The order for only the third of 11 sections to be dualled was due to have been awarded last year.
Ms Gilruth scrapped the previous contest for the contract because the sole bid received was significantly higher than expected than the £115 million estimate. That effectively forced her to finally admit the SNP’s long-held target of completing Inverness-Perth dualling by 2025 was “simply no longer achievable”.
Mid-Scotland and Fife Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser told the committee that a “Government-initiated question” (GIQ) – to enable a Parliamentary statement – over when the Tomatin-Moy procurement would be re-started had been lodged on Monday, but withdrawn on Wednesday.
Transport Scotland director of major projects Lawrence Shackman said Ms Hyslop told him: “I believe the reason for its withdrawal is because there is a new transport minister and the view was taken that she should be given time to have a think about this issue and make her own decision on how it should be taken forward."
He said the agency was still “aiming for” awarding the contract by the end of the year – “but I will have to wait and see when the new minister has decided on the procurement route and when that should be launched”.
Mr Shackman admitted it was “highly unlikely” the same form of contract would be used again, which the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) told the committee had deterred firms from bidding because it involved them carrying all the risk for delays such as bad weather.
However, he said it would not take “too much longer” to complete a new version, which could include such risks being shared between Transport Scotland and the winning company, as has has been the norm in England for decades.
Earlier, CECA chief executive Grahame Barn told the committee: “Transport Scotland have had consultation with us on how we can make these projects more attractive. The issue we still have is they are just trying to tweak their existing contract by changing the risk profile rather than moving to the industry standard contract.
He said he was “fairly certain” the price would increase from the original bid that was rejected in February – thought to be £130m-£140m – since construction industry inflation had been 10-15 per cent since then.
Transport Scotland said “advice relating to this GIQ will be considered by the recently appointed minister for transport” and preparations for the contract was “a matter of urgency”.
The body said it was discussing with the industry “changes to standard procurement and contract terms to better reflect current market conditions in a bid to maximise interest and competition for a new procurement” for the project.
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