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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 09 May 2018

Agenda: Eliminating Hepatitis C, Portfolio Question Time, NHS Tayside (Mental Health Services), National Health Service (Waiting Times), Point of Order, Business Motion, Decision Time, Roads


Contents


Roads

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-11185, in the name of Rachael Hamilton, on the condition of Scotland’s roads. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it sees as serious issues with Scotland’s roads; believes that they have considerably deteriorated following the recent extreme weather, with new potholes being created and existing ones becoming worse; understands that recent statistics suggest that more than a quarter of the country’s roads are in an unsatisfactory state and that, between 2015 and 2017, almost 12,000 miles of these were either earmarked for inspection or required maintenance; notes reports that, since 2010, spending on maintenance has been reduced by 20%; understands that a recent report by confused.com claimed that the potholes on Scotland’s roads were the worst in the UK; believes that the report suggests that these potholes are four miles deep in total, cost £104 million in repairs in 2016, with requests for payments for repairs due to the damage inflicted by them rising by 130% between 2013 and 2017, and that over £2 million has been paid out in pothole-related compensation, and further believes that, despite efforts by local authorities, including the Scottish Borders Council’s commitment to spend £22 million on roads and bridges, the recent severe weather has now made repair almost impossible, meaning that Scotland’s roads are now facing a crisis.

17:07  

Scotland’s roads have suffered from chronic underfunding, which has allowed for the situation that many of us endure daily. Potholes are described as craters and our roads as resembling the surface of the moon.

Scotland’s roads are in crisis. The anecdotal evidence has been proven by experts. Confused.com found that Scotland has the worst potholes in the United Kingdom, and recent statistics suggest that more than a quarter of the country’s roads are in an unsatisfactory state. Between 2015 and 2017, almost 12,000 miles of those roads were either earmarked for inspection or required maintenance, with 423 potholes reported each day.

Millions are spent by local authorities to repair potholes, and £2 million has been paid out in compensation over the past 10 years. Indeed, compensation claims by motorists for damage that is caused by potholes alone have risen by 130 per cent between 2013 and 2017. This morning, I spoke to Sustrans Scotland, which told me that, in Edinburgh over the past 5 years, £111,000 has been paid out to road users, a staggering £66,000 of which was paid in compensation to cyclists.

Over the past seven years, funding to maintain Scotland’s roads has been cut by a fifth. A report from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities found that funding fell from £691 million in 2010-11 to £554 million last year. TRL—the transport research laboratory—found that every £1 reduction in spend on local roads maintenance could result in a cost of between £1.67 and £1.76 to the wider Scottish economy.

Potholes are our nemesis: they cause misery to our constituents and cost our local authorities millions. Undoubtedly, the beast from the east made things worse. The extreme weather has worsened the conditions of our roads, so much so that budgets for repairs will barely make an impact. We must acknowledge that, although local authorities try to combat the problem, it is now out of control.

The Scottish Borders region has some of the worst roads in Scotland and in the UK. My constituents agree with the Federation of Small Businesses when it says that run-down local roads hurt small businesses. A community group from Newcastleton said of the potholes:

“This is having a debilitating impact on our community with many now not attempting travel in the dark or even confident about leaving the village. There is real fear of risk, serious accident or injury being caused by driving”.

Having inherited a backlog of repairs, our current administration at Scottish Borders Council has set aside £22 million for roads and bridges over the next three years. With the recent additional £1.8 million of investment, a total of 32 Borders roads will be improved as part of a £2.6 million resurfacing programme this year. Despite that encouraging news, the fact remains that the Borders has a roads network of 3,000km and, with more than 900 potholes recorded last year alone, the increased investment will not go far enough.

That is true for all. Scotland’s local authorities have more than 150,000 potholes, and the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland has warned that funding cuts mean that it is not possible to repair each one, so the problem is very much real and impacts on us all. Despite efforts from local authorities, they alone simply cannot do enough to fix the roads.

However, the Scottish Conservatives have a plan—a means to support local authorities and help repair our roads. A pothole fund of £100 million over the next parliamentary session—£20 million a year—would support local authorities to fix our roads. That funding would mean that 2 million potholes would be repaired over the next session, which would be enough to fix current and future potholes. Local authorities would bid for the fund to support their own efforts on road repairs. That is action that Scottish people deserve. They want a road network that is fit for purpose.

Scotland needs action now to stop this troubling situation from becoming further exacerbated. A good road network will benefit us all. It will benefit motorists, because with pothole-free roads, motorists can drive in comfort and safety. It will help cyclists, because they will be able to ride in safety and not be at risk of puncture or of falling off due to unexpected terrain under their wheels. It will help local transport, because bus journeys will be made safer and smoother, and there will be less chance of something going wrong.

In a recent promotional video for the National Trust for Scotland, Sir Chris Hoy talked about how he hates potholes, but loves that Scots can be the best in the world. We can be the best in the world. For example, the Scot, John Loudon McAdam, was the inventor of the macadam road surface.

We could encourage more visitors to the area. Instead of looking out for potholes, visitors could look at the beautiful countryside. We want to make a good impression in Scotland, and one way to do that is by making our roads pothole free and safe.

I have people in my constituency who are in such despair that they have started to fill in their own potholes. Roads are so bad that they cannot drive to their own front door. It is not right that the situation is now so bad that members of the public have taken action into their own hands. The fund would give my constituents, and each member’s constituents, the roads and repair services that they deserve.

I reiterate that the Scottish Conservatives are offering real solutions, with a plan to introduce a pothole fund. It is a solution to fix our roads and fill in our 153,000-plus potholes. Scotland’s roads are in crisis. The roads in the Scottish Borders are in crisis. The Scottish National Party must focus on the day job and resolve the national shame that are Scotland’s roads.

17:13  

I am very grateful to Rachael Hamilton for securing the debate. The issue is very important; it is one on which we get a tremendous amount of casework and one in which our constituents are very interested. I gently suggest to the Conservative Party that, if it wants £100 million to put into a pothole, it might want to first address the £500 million black hole that the Conservative Party’s tax plans would create. However, I do not want to become too partisan in this debate.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, because it allows me to highlight some of the fantastic work that my colleagues in SNP-led Renfrewshire Council are undertaking. Only today, on the front page of Johnstone’s The Gazette, it was reported that—

I am sorry—I know that you are very friendly with The Gazette, but I am not. No props, please.

I apologise, Presiding Officer, but I will read from the front page:

“7m to fix roads in ruin”.

Indeed, SNP-led Renfrewshire Council is actually putting more than £7 million into the roads—it is a £7.2 million programme. That means that 86 roads across the region will be resurfaced; 33 roads will be surfaced, dressed or patched; and 46 footways will be resurfaced. It represents the biggest single investment in roads ever made by Renfrewshire Council, and there will be an on-going programme of pothole repairs. That has been complemented by the money invested by Derek Mackay and the Scottish Government, which was £312,000 for Renfrewshire Council and £136,000 for East Renfrewshire Council. Those councils cover my Renfrewshire South constituency.

I want constituents who are watching this debate—I am sure that many are watching, because potholes are an important issue—to have an idea of some of the work that will be undertaken. Therefore, I am delighted to share that the roads in my constituency that are to be resurfaced include the A761 Bridge of Weir Road; Beith Road, Kilbarchan Road, Barrochan Road, the Barrochan Road interchange, Linn Park Gardens, MacDowall Street and Spateston Road in Johnstone; Braehead, Bridesmill Road and part of the High Street in Lochwinnoch; Bridge Street in Linwood; Easwaldbank, Kilbarchan Road, Locher Road and Kibbleston Road in Kilbarchan; and Newton Avenue in Elderslie. That makes up a grand total of 41,000m2, which, members might be keen to know, is 10,000m2 more than the total floor space of the Scottish Parliament.

It is not just roads that we will be repaving in Renfrewshire South. We will repave footways, too, including Bridge of Weir Road; Clippens Road in Linwood; Park Gardens and Easwaldbank in Kilbarchan; Miller Street, Quarrelton Road, Beith Road and the High Street, where my constituency office is located, in Johnstone; Old Road in Elderslie, so Elderslie is not left out; Victoria Road in Brookfield; McConnell Road; and Falcon Road.

There is a bonanza of resurfacing about to happen in Renfrewshire South, and across Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire, which I welcome. It demonstrates that, at local council and national levels, SNP administrations and the SNP Government invest in Scotland’s roads. I know that all my constituents will be delighted about that.

17:17  

I would have been absolutely delighted if the people of Renfrewshire were 100 per cent happy with the state of their roads, but judging from the scale and volume of the casework that I get in my inbox from Renfrewshire, I can assure Tom Arthur that that is not the case. However, it is great to see that Rachael Hamilton’s debate has spurred Renfrewshire Council into action on the issue, at long last.

The truth is that all around Scotland—not just in Renfrewshire, North Ayrshire or the other constituencies that we will hear about this afternoon—roads are deteriorating. They are flooding and are full of cracks and potholes. Every week, all members must surely in their inboxes see complaints not just from drivers who have had to replace tyres, bumpers and suspension, but from cyclists and motorcyclists who are struggling to use our roads, and from pedestrians, wheelchair users and people who use mobility scooters. The issue touches anybody who uses our roads.

To give the matter scale, I point out that drivers lodged complaints about a road in Scotland every three minutes last winter. Depending on whom one asks, it is estimated that up to one third of our roads are in need of some form of repair. That is more than 4,771 miles of road that need to be fixed.

As Rachael Hamilton said, there are more than 154,000 potholes in Scotland. Councils have been struggling with that. Rather than spending money on fixing the roads, they are paying out compensation. It seems that they are stuck in a rotational situation that is hard to get out of. Repayments for damage have increased by 130 per cent since 2013. It is a chronic issue and it is caused not just by the weather, but by the roads being left to get worse year after year.

The problem is not only in one part of Scotland, but how bad the roads are varies depending where one lives. For example, in West Lothian, it is estimated that about 20 per cent of roads are in need of repair, but the figure could be up to 45 per cent in Argyll and Bute. As is so often the case, rural roads are the last to be addressed.

I recently ran—perhaps to my regret—a social media campaign asking people to post pictures of, or comments about, potholes in North Ayrshire. The Facebook post attracted 500 comments in a week—the most I have ever had on any post, even constitutional posts—and it reached more than 50,000 people, which struck me. Many people from across my area posted pictures and comments on specific roads that they wanted me to go and have a look at.

Road-maintenance funding has been reduced by approximately 20 per cent. According to the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland, the cost for fixing it all is estimated to be up to £1.6 billion, and I do not think for a minute that the minister has that sort of money kicking around or up his sleeve. The reality is, however, that many councils simply do not have enough cash to resurface roads.

The problem is not limited to council roads. We know that trunk roads and motorways are also suffering, and more than a tenth of Scotland’s trunk roads are showing damage. I am keen to hear what the minister will do to address that.

There are ways of fixing the situation. We could use technology better. Self-healing asphalt has been talked about and has been used in some countries for more than a decade. However, the piecemeal approach of just filling in holes rather than looking at long-term funding solutions and structures is not the way forward.

Drivers are sick of listening to politicians from all levels of government saying, “That road isn’t my responsibility; it’s someone else’s.” Drivers say enough is enough, and so do I.

17:21  

I thank Rachael Hamilton for lodging her motion, which has allowed us to have today’s debate on the condition of Scotland’s roads.

Having been a councillor for more than a decade and now as an MSP, when I say that few issues are raised as often and with as much passion by the public than the state of our roads, it is a sentiment that many other members will recognise. The number of those complaints is on the rise, and we can see why.

As the motion notes, Confused.com found that the potholes on Scotland’s roads are now the worst in the UK. Figures from the most recent local government benchmarking report reveal that approximately a third of all roads are in need of maintenance work. Research by the Society of Chief Officers of Transportation in Scotland found that the cost of the backlog of repairs that are needed on Scotland’s roads is valued at £1.6 billion.

That would be an onerous challenge at the best of times, but when it comes to council budgets, we live in the worst of times. We have seen a £1.5 billion cut in council budgets since 2011. UK Government austerity has been passed on, with interest, to local councils by the Scottish Government. The impact of those political, not economic, choices is there for all to see in the plague of potholes on Scotland’s roads.

Those funding cuts mean that council roads budgets have been slashed by 20 per cent during the past seven years, and the number of road-maintenance workers has also fallen, as councils haemorrhage jobs by the tens of thousands. The workers who remain face an ever-growing workload with fewer resources and pay that has been falling in real terms.

Unison Scotland’s “Road to nowhere” report highlights low morale among road-repair staff, with almost one in 10 survey respondents stating that morale in their team was low or very low. The same report found that the majority of workers reported skipping breaks or working late just to get through their growing workload. Until we have a fair funding deal for our councils, we will not begin to tackle the crisis on our roads.

The problems on our roads are not confined to those that are maintained by local authorities. The number of complaints that I receive about the lack of basic maintenance on some of our trunk roads is also on the increase. For example, the so-called temporary traffics lights on the Enterkinfoot stretch of the A76 that reduce the road to a single lane have been in place since 2014, as we await urgent repairs on Scotland’s forgotten road. The A77 and A75, the crucial arteries for the south-west that lead to our ferry terminals at Cairnryan, have been starved of investment for far too long, with an economic impact for all to see.

We all know that we cannot build our way out of all the issues that affect our roads—for example, congestion. We need better investment and proper regulation of our buses and a railway system in which passengers, not profits, are the priority. However, that does not excuse the lack of basic maintenance on our roads that impacts on our drivers and other people including bus users. For people who travel by foot or bike, poorly maintained pavements or potholes can mean serious injury.

We also need to consider just how we repair many of our roads and how we guarantee the standard and longevity of such work. Technological innovations could reduce the time and cost of road works, so we should be supporting the development of new techniques such as the use of waste plastic, which is being pioneered by Dumfriesshire firm MacRebur. Such techniques have real potential to repair many of our roads in an environmentally friendly way.

If we do not begin to address the funding crisis that faces our local councils, we will never address the crisis of outstanding repairs to Scotland’s roads.

17:24  

Last year I apparently drove 19,000 miles around my constituency. Although I am not an expert on potholes, I am certainly very experienced when it comes to them. Highland Council represents a huge road network, with 6,754km of road in its area. Like other members in the chamber—with the exception, apparently, of Tom Arthur—we have problems with potholes, too.

At the beginning of the year—I say this to pay credit where credit is due—Transport Scotland moved very quickly on the A82 and A87 trunk roads on the west coast by releasing an additional £4 million to BEAR Scotland to deal with resurfacing works on those roads. It brought forward its programme of works to get started sooner.

On local authority roads, which is where the real problem is, just a few weeks ago Derek Mackay announced an additional £10 million for local authorities. Highland Council got the largest share of that, which is appropriate, considering the mileage of the road network that it needs to deal with. For me, the priority is that, with that additional funding, with council tax having gone up and with an increase, albeit a small one, to Highland Council’s budget, it is right and fair that Highland Council move as quickly as possible to fill in potholes and resurface roads, which in some areas of my constituency are exceedingly bad.

The problem is not just bad weather. I was being contacted by constituents prior to the bad weather about certain stretches of road in the Highland Council region that desperately need attention. I am very concerned when I see urban roads in the Highland Council area getting quicker treatment than some of the worst rural roads in villages on the west coast of Skye, for example. I would like there to be a clear schedule of works, like the one that Transport Scotland has produced, for improvements to be made quickly, so that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Constituents have contacted me about helping, and Rachael Hamilton mentioned how constituents are choosing to help. We now have tourists starting to arrive. One pair of constituents in particular, Annie and Neil Ferguson, have told me stories about how they have had to help visitors whose hire cars have been damaged by the potholes in the surface of roads on the west coast of Skye, which are Highland Council’s responsibility. Annie wrote to me saying that, last Saturday, the breakdown truck attended her very small village 12 times, and that the Fergusons had personally been involved with seven lots of visitors in the space of a week—feeding them, providing lifts, making phone calls and even changing tyres. They have had German, French, Italian, Slovakian, American and Chinese visitors all coming to ask for help because of difficulties caused by the state of the road. I could cite other stories.

I would love it if Tom Arthur could put his council colleagues in touch with the Labour-Lib Dem-independent administration at Highland Council and perhaps share some ideas as to how the council can make better progress in filling the potholes and ensuring that my constituents can get to work and go about their business without fear of punctures or damaging their cars. There is money there, with £4 million having gone to Transport Scotland, the biggest share of the £10 million going to Highland Council and a decent share of budget this year. The council needs to publish a schedule of works and to get moving as quickly as possible.

17:29  

I thank Rachael Whittle—Whittle? No, not yet.

Never!

I thank Rachael Hamilton for bringing the debate to the chamber and giving me the opportunity once again to highlight the issues that we have in the south-west of Scotland. The Minister for Transport and Islands is well aware of the campaigns that are under way to upgrade the A77 and A75. For his information, I recently took a trip in a heavy goods vehicle down the A77 all the way to Cairnryan. It was interesting to be in a 44-tonne lorry whose driver had to swerve to avoid potholes. I leave to members’ imagination how big potholes must be to have an impact on a 44-tonne lorry.

I thank Bullet Express for allowing that to happen. Going on that journey was quite enlightening, as it went through a lot of small villages such as Maybole and Girvan at around 9.30 at night, and it was striking to see how close the lorry goes to the cars and the houses on either side. It was quite interesting to come out of the other side of Ballantrae and go up that hill as the ferry was being unloaded at the other end, with other 44-tonne lorries coming the other way, which meant that the lorries in both directions were crawling along at 4mph or 5mph, with their wing mirrors missing each other by a few inches. That was quite something to see.

What is happening on the A77 between Monkton and Kilmarnock is interesting, as temporary road surface signs have appeared. How bad do the trunk roads have to become before action is taken? They are inspected weekly and are becoming extremely dangerous, especially to motorcyclists. Given the condition of the A77 and the apparent inability of the transport secretary to effectively address the issue, I am considering going elsewhere for a solution. Instead of treating this as an infrastructure issue, I have decided to treat it as an issue of culture. The A77 is no longer a road; it is a kinetic sculpture that aims to reflect the Scottish Government’s approaches to dealing with health, education and the economy—it is crumbling under pressure and is full of holes. For the next part of that art installation, I will apply to Creative Scotland for a grant to repair the roads. My working title is “Competence, or How I Learned to Stop Making Excuses and Get on with the Job”.

The second strategic transport projects review effectively means that the transport secretary will not be announcing any new major capital projects until shortly before the next election. Surely, that means that he has more time to dedicate to maintaining the existing roads network. However, even when the transport secretary has the funds, they do not seem to be spent, as there is currently a £50 million underspend. If I asked around the chamber, I am sure that we could all say how that money could be grabbed and spent. The Scottish Government is prepared to ignore south-west Scotland and allow the roads there to crumble while it crows over expensive vanity projects such as the electrification of the A9.

Did the member just say that the electrification of the A9 is a vanity project? I assure him that better infrastructure works on the road to the Highlands are not vanity projects.

I think that you touched a raw nerve, Mr Whittle.

The thing is, Scottish Power says that there is a huge capacity issue that that project has not addressed. While the Government spends money on that, the infrastructure in the south of Scotland is crumbling and is left unattended.

We should not underestimate the economic impact that is made by the condition of Scotland’s roads. Although I am not ruling out the possibility that the condition of the roads is part of a new economic strategy to boost the wheel and tyre repair sector, I suspect that that is not the case. There is a cost to the economy, whether it involves hauliers and other businesses dealing with the expense of repairs to their vehicles or commuters being caught up in traffic when someone bursts a tyre on a narrow section of road.

I say to Tom Arthur that, when we talk about investing in the economy, addressing the roads network is one of the issues that we are talking about.

17:33  

I thank Rachael Hamilton for securing this important debate. It is particularly pertinent to me, because I wrote to the minister a fortnight ago about the issue. I was on the A90, coming back from Forfar one evening in April, and I went through the 3 miles between the A935 and B966 turnoffs—locals will know that section of road as the section of pinkish tarmac that passes Stracathro services. I was absolutely incensed as I slalomed past the large, deep potholes, dodging other motorists who were doing the same thing, and grimacing every time I crunched into one. That day, I was in a 15-year-old sports car that reacts somewhat negatively to dropping into a hole at 70mph. I have also frequently ridden that road on a motorbike, and I can say that hitting one of those holes on two wheels or executing a last-minute swerve to avoid one could easily end in tragedy.

I immediately composed a letter to the minister, asking for urgent action. The Courier picked up on the matter and reported a study showing that, last year, around 22 per cent of A roads in Angus were categorised as red or amber. That figure was up from 17 per cent when the SNP took over. It also reported that, in Perth and Kinross, 40 per cent—that is nearly half—of A roads were categorised as red or amber, which is up from 36 per cent when the SNP took over. Kate Forbes may wish to note that that statistic has improved since a Conservative council took over and made tackling potholes a priority. I am sure that the councillors will be pleased to help her.

That is 324km of road in need of repair in The Courier country. It is more than a cosmetic issue; it is an economic issue as well as a public safety one. It is not straightforward to get to Brechin and Forfar from Aberdeen by public transport, and many people who do not need to make the journey could be put off by the risks of driving, which is not good for the local economy.

There are also public health risks. The minister will be well aware of “Potzilla”, which opened up in March on the A90 outside Laurencekirk. More a sinkhole than a pothole, it put an estimated 21 cars on the verge in one evening alone with burst tyres and buckled alloys. That was financially crippling, but just imagine if one of those vehicles had been a motorbike. What will really have riled motorists on the A90 is that, when The Courier asked for comment, a Scottish Government spokesman said:

“The budget for maintenance... has increased and a recent Audit Scotland report found 87% of roads are acceptable. The recent severe weather caused more damage ... our trunk road operating companies make carriageway defects safe”,

etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. That does not say anything about the A90 or acknowledge that there was a particular issue, and it does not say anything about when—indeed, whether—that moonscape will be repaired.

I have a good deal of time for Mr Yousaf, both as an individual and as a minister. I believe that he appreciates an opportunity to tell it straight. Therefore, I am not convinced that that generalised metaphorical pat on the head for the people of the north-east was given in his words. I am sure that he would not have wanted to disappoint the people of the north-east with that apparent lack of urgency or focus on the actual problem, so I am very pleased to have this opportunity—afforded by Rachael Hamilton—to ask the minister, in closing, to address that specific point. I ask him to give a cast-iron reassurance, on the record, to people in the north-east that the A90, especially that particular 3-mile stretch, will be sorted once and for all and to give a timescale for that. I am sure that he will do that today for the people of the north-east, because I know they will be watching with great interest.

The state of the A90 is hugely concerning. It is damaging to the local economy and to the vehicles that use it, and I pray that no damage to health or safety will arise from it. Although it may not yet be time for heads to roll over the A90, it is time that it got fixed so that our cars and motorbikes can.

17:37  

I congratulate Rachael Hamilton on securing the debate, and I put on record how much I share her concerns about the deterioration of Scotland’s roads. Nowhere is that more of a problem than in Ayrshire, as Brian Whittle and Jamie Greene have highlighted.

I will start with the M77. The deterioration of that road, which is much used by my constituents, has been very significant over the past winter. Cars travelling at 70mph, hitting potholes and swerving to avoid them in heavy traffic, have once again made that road a less safe place to drive than it should be. Until Liam Kerr spoke, I had not even thought about the danger to motorbikes. That the standard of the road’s carriageway and surface has fallen below acceptable safety standards is, I believe, beyond doubt. The minister is aware of my constituents’ concerns, and I await responses to many of the concerns that they have raised, knowing as I do what a significant mailbag he will have on the subject.

Brian Whittle has drawn the chamber’s attention to the deterioration of the A77 from Kilmarnock to Portpatrick. Again, that affects my constituents, as it is part of the main arterial road between Glasgow and Wigtownshire. That road has also dramatically deteriorated over the winter. I understand that Transport Scotland’s first duty over the winter was to keep the road properly clear of snow and ice, and I salute its efforts in that regard. However, the immediate priority of Scotland TranServ and Transport Scotland must now be to make our trunk roads safe to drive on again. Just today, I have been contacted by yet another constituent whose vehicle has suffered £500-worth of damage, and I know from bitter experience how difficult it will be for him to gain compensation for that damage.

Turning to the roads that are maintained by our local authorities, I know and understand the pressure that the Ayrshire roads alliance is under to repair winter damage. However, having spent part of the bank holiday weekend travelling the roads of Ayrshire—many of them in Jeane Freeman’s constituency—I ask the minister and the Ayrshire roads alliance to note the poor state of the A714 south of Barrhill and before the Cree bridge and the A70 from Ayr to Muirkirk.

I will close at this point—no: I will turn to the potholes in my Ayr constituency, which are of enormous concern to my constituents. The difference between urban potholes and trunk road and rural potholes is the speed limits that are in force. Car damage is much less in built-up areas than in areas where the speed limit is 60mph or 70mph, and the potholes on our major trunk roads represent a real threat to life, as Liam Kerr has noted, which is why massive efforts must now be made to repair them.

I will close this time, Presiding Officer, although I could go on. I am certain that the minister will by now have got the picture of the state of the roads in Ayrshire without my detailing every last pothole on every road.

That is the first time I have heard a member close a speech twice, but there we go. I call Humza Yousaf to close for the Government.

17:41  

I thank Rachael Hamilton for bringing this debate to the Parliament, which she is absolutely right to do, as all members will have had complaints from our constituents about potholes. I have seen potholes in my constituency, sometimes in the trunk road network and sometimes in the local road network. There have been some very good speeches, with some notable exceptions—without naming any names.

I will start with the Government’s responsibilities and then move on to local authority roads. The Government’s responsibility—and of course mine—is to maintain the 3,500km of our trunk road network, which stretches from south to north of the country and east to west. Many of those roads have been mentioned in the debate.

Our investment has been about £8.2 billion since 2007 and the 2018-19 budget for maintenance of the network has increased by £65 million to £433 million. The increase was for a number of reasons. Members will remember the Audit Scotland report in 2016 on the condition of Scotland’s roads. Local roads were in a less acceptable condition but, at that point, 87 per cent of our trunk road network was in an acceptable condition. Since then, we have had extreme weather challenges. Almost every speaker has recognised that this winter has had a detrimental effect on our road surfaces. We have therefore had to invest more and we are putting our money where our mouth is with regard to the trunk road network. That is worth putting on the record.

With regard to resurfacing, despite our postbags and inboxes being full of complaints, from 2016 to 2017 there was a 10 per cent increase in the satisfaction of the users of our trunk road network. The 2018 figures may be different, because I am the first to accept that the weather challenges have had a deteriorating effect on our road surfaces and the trunk road network.

I hope that most members have a relationship of sorts, even if it is not a good one, with the operating companies that work on the trunk road network in their constituencies. If they do not, I will be more than happy to facilitate introductions, as a number of members have asked about particular potholes in the trunk road network. Liam Kerr spoke about the A90 and if there are category 1 defects that could cause harm in the way that he describes—which I do not doubt at all—the operating companies have a duty in their contracts to repair them as soon as possible. If he does not have a good relationship with the operating company, I am happy to introduce him. I will take away the information on the potholes that he has mentioned; I do not have an answer for him right now in the debate, but I will see whether they have been repaired.

When I or other MSPs write to the minister with a concern about a particular stretch of road or a particular pothole in a trunk road, is that concern passed as a matter of course from his office to the operating company?

I would be surprised if we did not have a conversation. Essentially, we would have a conversation with the operating company to ask it about a pothole that has been raised by an MSP to allow us to draft a response. Sometimes, of course, I will ask my officials to communicate directly with the operating company and then write a response. If any member wishes to raise concerns about particular potholes—I know that many members have said that there is a long list of them—there is an open offer to speak to my road maintenance team in Transport Scotland for any member across the chamber to take up.

Since the winter, we have realised that there was a need to increase our investment. Towards the end of the financial year, an additional amount of money was redirected towards carriageway repairs. Many members have mentioned that. A further £6.5 million has been invested in delivering maintenance schemes.

Notwithstanding the pressures that members have indicated, does the minister recognise that Highland Council, which has a huge road network, faces particular pressures and that is why it got the largest share of the money?

Yes, I recognise that. I have a good relationship with the leader of Highland Council, Margaret Davidson. However, Highland Council is not alone. Argyll and Bute Council’s geographic scope is huge, and it therefore has a number of issues. I am meeting the leader of—

And the south-west.

And the south-west. Dumfries and Galloway Council and other councils cover a large area. However, Kate Forbes was right to mention Highland Council.

My point about the trunk road network is that we are putting our money where our mouth is.

Before I turn to local authorities, there is another thing to say about the A90 in the north-east. We are investing heavily in that. Members will be aware—and, I am sure, very supportive—of the work that we are doing in taking forward the Laurencekirk junction, the Aberdeen western peripheral route, the dualling of the A96, the Haudagain roundabout and, indeed, the average speed cameras between Dundee and Stonehaven, which will help to improve road safety.

On local roads, many members have mentioned SCOTS, which, as members would imagine, I have a good relationship with. I will not take away from the fact that there have been challenging times for local authorities in the past few years, but it is clear that where they choose to spend their budget is a question of priorities. No party at the local authority level necessarily has clean hands on that; all of them have to reflect hard on where they have chosen to spend their money over the years. The £22 million over three years from Scottish Borders Council that Rachael Hamilton mentioned might go a good way to repairing local roads, but it is worth mentioning that the SNP opposition wanted an extra £2 million and that was voted down. Nonetheless, how does that £22 million over three years compare with the Borders budget over the next three years? Perhaps it compares positively; I am just asking the question. In previous years—SCOTS would be the first to say this—the amount that needed to be spent on road maintenance probably fell short of what it should have been.

Just for the record, the previous administration was an SNP one, and we are maintaining all the roads that it did not maintain and did not provide the budget for.

IAM RoadSmart, for example, considers that, rather than looking at our backlog, we should invest in future road maintenance and provide for that within the budget, as the Scottish Conservatives suggest with the pothole action fund. Does the minister believe that that is a long-term solution?

I will not go back and forth on the Borders issue. As I said, I do not think that any political party can claim to have given the issue the priority that it should have been given at the local level. The Scottish Government has increased our trunk road spending, which I am pleased about.

I will turn to the proposal for a pothole fund—I am not sure what it is called. I think that Rachael Hamilton referred to £100 million over the parliamentary session. It is clear that the Conservatives can take that forward with Derek Mackay in the next budget negotiations. I am sure that he will give the challenge back that people cannot ask for a tax cut and then ask for £100 million unless they say where the £100 million would come from. The Conservative finance spokesperson has, of course, every right to take that issue forward with Derek Mackay during the budget negotiations. From our perspective, we will continue to invest additional moneys where we can. The £10 million additional money that Derek Mackay announced on the back of the beast from the east is one example of that.

I will work hand in hand with local authorities to see how I can be helpful in relation to my role in the trunk road network. Where we can be helpful to local authorities in this regard, we absolutely will be.

I make an open offer to members. If they want to raise particular potholes with me, my Transport Scotland officials will make themselves available for that. We will continue to liaise with other political parties on any ideas that they have about improving our local roads. From a Scottish Government perspective, we will continue to do the job that we are paid to do, which is of course to invest in and maintain our trunk road network.

Meeting closed at 17:50.