Scottish government spending on the maintenance of the country’s trunk roads has fallen sharply this year amid the Covid-19 outbreak, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed.
The figures show that Scotland’s longest trunk road, the 273-mile-long A9, which connects Falkirk and Thurso, has so far received just £890,000 for repairs in 2020, compared with £8.5 million last year.
Since January, £998,000 has been spent on the A75 between Gretna and Stranraer, compared to the £5.6 million it was given in 2019.
Last year, £3.6 million was set aside for repairs on the A85 between Oban and Dundee, which has seen spending of just £200,000 in 2020 so far.
The A82 between Glasgow and Inverness has received £2 million in 2020, but that figure is the lowest spent on the road in at least five years - and £1.6 million less than in 2019.
While most trunk roads have seen significant cuts to spending so far this year, the A701 that connects Dumfries and Edinburgh, did see an increase; £200,000 in 2020 compared with £89,000 in the previous year.
The Scottish government blamed the overall dip in maintenance spending on the impact of coronavirus in Scotland, and insisted that more than 80 per cent of Scottish roads were in “acceptable” condition.
But critics have called for a massive rise in spending amid a growing backlog of pothole repairs first identified by a Scottish Parliament committee in 2019.
In November last year, MSPs on Holyrood’s Connectivity Committee said £3 billion was needed to tackle the backlog of pothole repairs across the country, adding that current spending was insufficient to prevent conditions deteriorating.
Speaking at the time, the committee convener, Edward Mountain, said: “The committee is concerned there is an estimated £1.2bn backlog for maintenance of trunk roads, the main arteries of Scotland’s roads network, and around £1.8bn needs to be spent to bring the local roads network up to a satisfactory standard.”
Today the Scottish government said it expected to complete all scheduled roadwork by the end of the financial year.
Reacting to the latest figures, Colin Howden, Director of Transform Scotland said: "There are ample funds to clear the entire road maintenance backlog, on local roads as well as trunk roads.
“Instead of clearing Scotland's £3 billion road maintenance backlog, the Scottish Ministers are spending £6 billion on new road-building on the A9 and A96.
"Clearing the local maintenance backlog would help pedestrians, cyclists and bus passengers as well as motorists.
“It would act as a boost to local authority finances and to smaller Scottish contractors, and would demonstrate that the Scottish Ministers were serious about cutting carbon emissions from the transport sector."
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We fully recognise the importance of a safe and reliable trunk road network and expect to invest £471 million in their maintenance in 2020/21, as set out in the draft Budget.
“Despite the impact of Covid-19 we expect to deliver the full annual programme of maintenance work in the remainder of the financial year.
“In addition, the Scottish Government announced a “Return to Work” package in June to help stimulate Scotland’s economy following the Covid-19 pandemic. This included a further £20 million in 2020/21 for maintenance of the trunk road network.
“During the Covid restrictions, and like the rest of the construction industry, our maintenance works were restricted to safety-critical works only.
“Since July, we have now returned to delivering our wider range of programmed works, thereby ensuring that the trunk road network continues to serve businesses and communities across Scotland.
“A recent Audit Scotland report found 87 per cent of trunk roads are in an acceptable condition. In times of financial constraint we are making significant efforts to maximise every penny that is spent on maintenance and our Road Asset Management Plan sets out how we prioritise maintenance and ensure cost-effective use of resources.”
A message from the Editor
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
The dramatic events of 2020 are having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive. We are now more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription to support our journalism.
Subscribe to scotsman.com and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app. Visit https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions now to sign up.
By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.