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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 22, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 22 March 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week, Major Infrastructure Projects, Fair Work, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Major Infrastructure Projects

Good afternoon. The first item of business is a statement by Keith Brown on major infrastructure projects. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement. If any member wants to ask a question, I encourage them to press their request-to-speak button now.

I will provide Parliament with an update on some major infrastructure projects, particularly the Aberdeen western peripheral route/Balmedie to Tipperty project, which is more commonly referred to as the AWPR.

The AWPR is the longest new roads project under construction in the United Kingdom; it is also the equivalent of building a new road between Edinburgh and Glasgow. When complete, the AWPR will provide substantial benefits across the whole of the north-east by boosting the economy, increasing business and tourism opportunities, improving safety, cutting congestion and improving opportunities for public transport facilities.

The AWPR contract was awarded in December 2014 to Aberdeen Roads Limited—or ARL—which is a joint venture comprising Balfour Beatty, Carillion and Galliford Try. When I attended the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee on 24 January 2018, I advised that the intention at that time remained to open the road in the spring but that the date could not be guaranteed. Since then, officials have been closely engaging with ARL to determine likely delivery dates for the project, so it was surprising when Balfour Beatty, one of the partners forming ARL, revealed in its 2017 full-year results on 14 March 2018 that the project would be complete in summer 2018.

Consequently, I instructed officials to arrange an urgent meeting with ARL on Thursday 15 March to seek clarity on the views that had been expressed by Balfour Beatty. Transport Scotland met ARL’s contractor on that date. At that meeting, ARL was asked to confirm formally its position on its intended completion date. On Monday evening, Transport Scotland received that confirmation. Officials instructed their technical advisers to validate the information in order that I could provide clarity to communities and businesses in the north-east on the timescale for completion of the project.

Yesterday, I received confirmation that that exercise has been concluded, and I will now provide an update to Parliament. ARL has confirmed to Transport Scotland that its target is to open the roads during August 2018. The contractor has cited delays, which it attributes to factors including the cumulative effects of weather events on the project, such as storm Frank in 2015, and delays to the timing of public utility diversions.

On that last issue, I advise that ARL is maintaining a claim against the Scottish Government through which it is seeking to recover substantial costs. ?Disputes are not unusual in contracts of this nature and we are working with ARL to understand the basis of its claim.

An additional complicating factor has arisen from the collapse of Carillion, one of the joint venture partners. As would be expected in such a situation, Carillion’s liquidation has had significant impacts across the UK. The delivery of projects such as the Royal Liverpool hospital and the Midland metropolitan hospital has been significantly impacted. I understand that new contractors are being considered to complete the projects. In contrast, the contract used for the AWPR made provision for such a scenario, with the remaining construction partners, Balfour Beatty and Galliford Try, being jointly and severally liable for the delivery of the project.

I am aware from third-party representations that there have been supply chain impacts on the AWPR as a result of the Carillion situation. However, I am also aware that the remaining construction partners are continuing to work through such issues to ensure that confidence in the north-east supply chain is maintained. As I announced in February, it is positive that the remaining construction partners on the AWPR have been able to take on more than 90 per cent of the former Carillion employees on the project.

I have said that the contractor has confirmed that its target is now to open the roads during August 2018. Transport Scotland has evaluated the information received from the contractor, together with independent assessments that were undertaken by its technical advisers. I have been advised that the conclusion of that work is that there is a range of dates when the project roads are likely to be ready to open. The earliest that all roads can realistically be open is likely to be towards the end of the summer period, which accords with the contractor’s August estimate.

However, Transport Scotland’s advisers have indicated that they consider ARL’s August estimate to be based on somewhat aggressive programming, with limited contingency. Although I welcome the efforts that are being made by the contractor to secure as early an opening as possible, I have been advised that it is prudent to anticipate the potential for a late autumn 2018 opening date for all project roads. That said, we are also establishing whether any further measures can be implemented not only to ensure that the project is delivered at the earliest opportunity but to identify whether sections of new road can be opened in advance of the whole project. Where that is possible without any impact on the timetable for completion of the project, we will ensure that those roads are opened.

As with all complex civil engineering contracts of this scale, delivery and completion of certain elements of work are dependent on a variety of factors including weather, the scheduling of other works and the availability of specialist resource. Indeed, in the past couple of weeks, weather in the local area has impacted on the project. As a result of those factors, it is not possible to confirm the exact completion date for the works at this time.

With regard to the contract, project programming and delivery are the responsibility of the contractor. The main payment mechanism for the project is through a unitary charge; in effect, payments are directly linked to the roads becoming open for public use. ARL is therefore contractually incentivised to complete the project efficiently while, of course, being obliged to comply with safety requirements.

The total scheme cost estimate remains unchanged at £745 million, and the project is estimated to generate more than £6 billion for the local economy, with an anticipated 14,000 new jobs to follow over the first 30 years after opening. Once open, the AWPR will cut congestion in and around Aberdeen city, reducing emissions and improving active travel. It will also improve connectivity in the region and provide better journey time reliability, particularly for those who are travelling from the north of the city to the south side.

A route around Aberdeen was first proposed over 65 years ago, and since the legal challenges were set aside in 2012, we have been working hard to deliver this essential project. I appreciate that residents and businesses of the north-east would wish the AWPR to be open as soon as possible, but I assure them that they will enjoy considerable benefits when it opens, which, again, will be at the soonest possible opportunity.

I also want to provide a brief update on other major trunk road projects across Scotland. On the A9 dualling programme, following the completion of the section between Kincraig and Dalraddy, the Luncarty to Pass of Birnam section is expected to be awarded in the first half of this year, and we also expect advance works to start there later this month. Following the recent publication of draft orders for schemes, representing 30 of the 80 miles to be dualled, I can advise that we now expect to publish draft orders for a further four dualling schemes in the coming months.

Of course, the A9 dualling is not just about building roads. Just last week, my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, Derek Mackay, attended the launch of an A9 tourism application that is being taken forward as part of the Scottish Government’s innovative CivTech challenge, which looks to new technology businesses to solve technological challenges. The app will help tourists to navigate the many visitor attractions and facilities in and around the A9 corridor.

Design work continues on the A96 Inverness to Aberdeen dualling programme, and the work that we are progressing includes a rolling programme of regular engagement with local communities and other stakeholders to ensure that those affected by the work are kept fully informed. It will also ensure that the vital feedback that we receive is taken into account as we develop our plans. To date, more than 11,500 people have visited public engagement events on the A96 dualling. Along with our commitment to dual the A9 between Perth and Inverness by 2025, dualling the A96 will ensure that the road network between all Scottish cities is of at least dual carriageway standard by 2030.

I trust that my statement has given members an indication of the extensive work that is under way across the country to bring forward these critically important trunk road schemes, which will build connectivity, improve access to education, jobs, tourism and other opportunities, and improve safety across Scotland’s trunk road network.

I am happy to try to answer members’ questions.

The announcement of yet another delay to the AWPR will come as a massive disappointment to the people of the north-east. The project has already been significantly delayed. The original completion date was spring 2017, but we have heard repeated announcements of delays from the cabinet secretary. First, there was a delay from spring 2017 to spring 2018, because of storm Frank in 2015, and then there was a delay from spring 2018 to summer 2018, for reasons unknown. There is now a further delay. The cabinet secretary’s statement was not clear whether the latest completion date is August 2018 or late autumn 2018—the statement refers to both.

Against that background, I have the following questions for the cabinet secretary. What is the latest completion date that he can guarantee? Is it August 2018 or late autumn 2018, and does late autumn 2018 really mean winter 2018? Does the latest delayed completion date mean that the route will be fully operational, or will that opening be subject to snagging and other issues? Does the cabinet secretary share our concerns about the impact that this further delay will have on people and businesses in the north-east?

Spring 2017 was never given as a completion date. If Dean Lockhart can provide proof that it was, I would be interested to see it. The first completion date that I am aware of is the one that was announced by the former First Minister, which was spring 2018.

Balfour Beatty—not the Scottish Government—talked recently about summer 2018. I did not mention that; I mentioned, for the reasons that I gave in my statement, that we expect the completion date to be late autumn this year. That is partly to do with the weather. I visited the road recently, and people in the location of the bridge affected by storm Frank say that they had not seen weather like that for decades. That, and the weather more recently, have had a major impact on the project.

As a result of the collapse of Carillion, two of the projects that I mentioned have stopped completely and are likely to be years behind schedule. Although that has not happened to the AWPR, I understand the impact that the collapse has had, which has been mentioned by the contractor.

As I said about the Forth crossing, we cannot guarantee these projects. We have to work with the contractor. However, I do not want just to pass on what the contractor has said in this regard, which is that it expects to finish in August or September this year. The advice from my officials is that it may be late autumn, and I have given the reasons why my officials expect that to be the case.

On the issue of snagging, I do not think that the member fully understands how such projects work. Snagging is typical of all major construction contracts and happens after completion of the project. To respond to the member’s specific point on that, when I say “opening”, I am referring to the roads being open and available for use. It is of course possible that snagging will continue after that—that is fairly standard—but I am talking about the roads being open and available for use.

The member mentioned delays. Labour and the Conservatives first raised the issue of the AWPR in the local council in 1948, and Malcolm Bruce first raised it when he was elected in 1983. People in the north-east know that the Scottish National Party Government is the one that will deliver the scheme.

I am not old enough to remember that.

We have had a 10-minute statement from the cabinet secretary but not one mention of the rights of workers who are employed on the Aberdeen western peripheral route project. Last week, Labour raised the following issues: allegations of bullying and harassment of the workforce on the project, the breach of agency-worker regulations, health and safety staff being ignored, and the subcontractor that had deployed gangmasters in the past. What action has the cabinet secretary taken?

At First Minister’s question time, we raised the use of umbrella companies and bogus self-employment. The First Minister said that that is a matter of choice, but it is not a choice to struggle to pay the mortgage, it is not a choice not to get sick pay, and it is certainly not a choice not to have a decent pension. What action is the cabinet secretary taking to ensure that Scottish taxpayers’ money is not used to exploit Scottish workers?

Had Jackie Baillie listened to the whole of my statement, she would have heard me mention that many Carillion employees—more than 90 per cent—were taken on by the two other contractors. The Scottish Government was very active in ensuring that that was the case. That is not the situation in other contracts in the UK that I could mention, where the collapse of Carillion has meant that the project has stopped. That demonstrates our concern for employees on the AWPR project.

Over the years of the AWPR construction project, a number of issues have been raised with me, every single one of which we have taken up. Many allegations that have been made have turned out not to be true. However, on the occasions on which they have been true, we have investigated and taken action.

Some of the issues that Jackie Baillie raised related to First Minister’s questions. The First Minister made the point that the employees who have sought to work through an agency, rather than to be directly employed, chose that—they had the choice to do one or the other.

On abolishing zero-hours contracts or taking action on employment law, Jackie Baillie knows full well—even if Richard Leonard pretends not to—that the Labour Party was instrumental in ensuring that employment law has stayed with the Conservative UK Government. In fact, Labour said during the Smith commission process that it was “crucial” that that happen. Had the Labour Party, rather than complaining, wished us to have the means to deal with those issues, it could have ensured that we did. In fact, one begins to wonder whether the intention behind Labour members’ position was to keep the power there so that they could continue to have a go at the Scottish Government, even though the UK Government has the powers over the matter.

I know that there are Labour Party MSPs who are not here today who regret that decision. I certainly regret it; I would like to have control over employment law, which would allow us to deal more robustly with the issues. Perhaps, in the future, the Labour Party will do what Richard Leonard failed to do at First Minister’s question time, and support devolution of employment law to Scotland.

What impacts will today’s announcement have on the Balmedie to Tipperty dualling project in my constituency? I note that, in his statement, the cabinet secretary referred to the fact that some sections of road are to be opened as they are ready. Has he been given any indication by ARL of the progress of stretches of the project? Has the company given any indication of which stretches it anticipates opening earlier? How will it communicate that to road users in the area and their MSPs?

I know that Gillian Martin has followed the project closely. She will be aware that the Craibstone and Dyce junctions, for example, were opened to traffic ahead of schedule in August 2016. I have told the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee that we will advise members as other parts are opened.

We have tried to respond to every inquiry that has been made. A number of members who are present have made inquiries—Peter Chapman, for example, has made a number of inquiries. I have tried to respond to those as quickly and fully as possible. I understand Gillian Martin’s point that local members want the latest information, so I undertake to ensure that that happens. Transport Scotland officials are in the chamber, too.

We have been working closely with the contractor to ensure that impacts on the Balmedie to Tipperty dualling project are mitigated as best they can be. We are also establishing whether further mitigation measures can be put in place to ensure not only that the project is delivered as soon as possible, but that we can open other sections of new road as soon as they can be opened.

We made a freedom of information request for email correspondence and minutes of meetings on the completion date between the cabinet secretary and Scott Shaw, the AWPR project manager, over the past 12 months. The response from Transport Scotland states that that information is not available because there were no meetings in which minutes were taken in the past 12 months, and not a single email was exchanged on the matter.

The cabinet secretary just said that he was surprised to learn about the delayed completion date from Balfour Beatty. I am surprised that he is surprised. Does he not speak to Balfour Beatty regularly? What are the communication lines like between him, ARL, Balfour Beatty and the project manager? Are they positive, forthcoming and regular and do they reflect a well-managed project? I do not think that that is the case.

Perhaps the same questions could be asked about the two projects in England that have been completely stopped by the collapse of Carillion—but the Conservatives would not ask that question.

The discussions are led by Transport Scotland directly with the contractor for good reason. I have had meetings with the contractor and I have had individual meetings and discussions with the companies that are involved. Jamie Greene mentioned the letter from Balfour Beatty; we have had meetings with Balfour Beatty recently. Perhaps the FOI request that he made did not capture those because they are so recent.

On the idea that the completion date caught people by surprise, if Jamie Greene looks at the proceedings of the two committees in the House of Commons that have been looking into the issue since the collapse of Carillion, he will see that there was as recently—I think—as three weeks ago confirmation from the contractor, ARL, that it expected the project to be completed on time. That is why I was surprised to see a subsequent public statement that brought that into question. Because we had had discussions with the contractor, I was not surprised about the nature of the challenge that was enclosing the project, but I was surprised to see that confirmation quickly followed by the statement from Balfour Beatty.

We have had good discussions with ARL, but as Jamie Greene would expect, discussions are, in the main, between Transport Scotland professionals and the companies that are involved in the project.

Balfour Beatty told the cabinet secretary that a completion date in late spring would not work. He has now told Balfour Beatty that a completion date in late summer is too aggressive and will not work, and that we should expect completion by late autumn this year. Does Mr Brown recognise that the issue is not just delay after delay from season to season, but the sense that nobody is in charge and that there appears to be no communication between the Government and the contractor, except under the pressure of events? Why are Balfour Beatty and the Government not having conversations and comparing notes on an on-going basis?

Will Mr Brown commit to coming once again to the north-east—he has been there a number of times as the project has been delayed and delayed—and giving absolute certainty to people in the north-east about when the road will be finished? We have heard about delay after delay up to now, but it is absolute certainty that people most need.

I do not think that I have ever mentioned a completion date of spring next year in any statement that I have made. Lewis Macdonald is right to say, as I did in my statement, that the contractor believes that the date might be in the summer this year: I think that the contractor mentioned August or September. I am trying to be as straightforward as I can be by saying that there has been independent analysis by Transport Scotland, which thinks that there are challenges to meeting that completion date. It is possible, however, and we will do all that we can to ensure that the date is met.

There are challenges in terms of how aggressive the programme is. We are also concerned with ensuring the safety of everyone involved and that there is no undue pressure on people who are working on the project.

There is also not a great deal of time for contingency planning in that period. It is for that reason that the prudent approach is for us to say that, to get that contingency planning into the programme, late autumn would be a better time for the road to be open to the public. That is our aim. If we can meet an earlier completion date, we will certainly do so. Failing that, we expect the date to be in late autumn.

As we get closer to the end of the project, it will of course be possible for us to be more certain. As soon as we can be as certain as possible about the completion date, I will be happy to go to the north-east to give that date to local stakeholders. We will very shortly provide information on the preparations for the opening of the road, because people expect to be able to factor that in. As soon as we know the date on which the road will open, and the arrangements, we will ensure that all local stakeholders are aware of those facts, too.

In the nearly 60 years that elapsed between 1948—to which the cabinet secretary referred—and the SNP’s coming into Government in 2007, Labour and the Tories were in government for roughly half the time each, and, indeed, the Liberals were part of the Government in Scotland until 2007. At any point in those nearly 60 years, were any road orders brought forward by those parties or other material preparations made to deliver an Aberdeen western peripheral route?

As his question implies, Stewart Stevenson knows about the absolute lack of progress that was made by the other parties during all the decades in which they had the opportunity to take the project forward. Not a single inch of tarmac was laid during any of those three parties’ time in government.

Mr Stevenson could have made the same point about the dualling of the A9 or about the fact that we did not have a motorway between Edinburgh and Glasgow until very recently. It is this Government that has taken on those big, complex projects and is delivering for the people of Scotland.

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement, which is called “Update on major infrastructure projects”. I thank him for his very brief update on travel between the central belt and the Highlands.

I draw the cabinet secretary’s attention to Transport Scotland’s website, which states:

“Detailed information on the necessary works are anticipated in 2017.”

I will set aside the grammar. We had that same message in 2016—but that was not about the A9. It was about what is missing from the cabinet secretary’s update: the Highland main line upgrade, which has undoubtedly lost momentum.

The Scottish Government is committed to low-carbon infrastructure. I am not sure that it fully appreciates how crowded the single-track line is, that knock-on delays seriously inconvenience many passengers and that they happen almost every day. We will move to a situation in which there are four lanes of road and one of rail, which is considerably fewer than there were in Victorian times.

We have wasted almost five years of control period 5—there are only about 12 months left. When will we get an update on the Highland main line?

I do not agree that time has been wasted. If the member looks at the investment in the railways in the period he mentions, he will see that we have been investing at a huge level, with new railway stations being opened and the laying of the longest piece of new railway track in the UK in 100 years.

Not in the Highlands.

The member is right to make that point, although work is being done on the route between Aberdeen and Inverness. It is important to say that we are trying to address quite a number of issues in the rail network in relation to which there has been a lack of investment over the best part of a century. We are doing as much as we can as quickly as we can possibly do it.

Of course, the same is true in terms of our roads. I do not see one issue as being isolated from the other. We have to improve both. As I said in a previous answer, buses and bicycles travel on roads as well. The road network is important, and the two issues cannot be viewed in isolation from each other.

The route that the member refers to is the responsibility of my colleague Humza Yousaf, and I will be happy to get him to respond to Mr Finnie with an update on progress on that.

We have a proud record of investment in road and rail in Scotland.

It is strange that, in a statement that was designed to give clarity in relation to the opening of the repeatedly delayed AWPR, the cabinet secretary seems to have added much confusion. Is the AWPR opening in August, which he said in his statement it was going to do, according to the contractor; is it opening at the end of summer, which is what Transport Scotland says; or is it opening in late autumn, which is what the cabinet secretary’s advisers say?

All that I can do is repeat what I have just said: we expect the road to be open by late autumn. I have explained the reasons why the contractor thinks that it can be opened by the summer—it is possible that that could happen—and I have explained why, because of the weather, it could not happen in spring this year. Mike Rumbles will know better than I do about the impact of, for example, storm Frank and recent weather, and also about the impact on the supply chain of events relating to Carillion. Those are the reasons why the opening date has shifted from spring. Contractors say that it is possible to open the road in summer. I think that it is prudent to talk about late autumn but, if it can be opened before then, we will certainly try to achieve that.

I appreciate the cabinet secretary’s update on the A9 duelling programme, which is good news for many Highland residents who have waited decades for a decent road. There are, of course, two arteries to the Highlands, the other being the A82. Do Government commitments to improving both roads prove how important it is for the Government to continue to invest in the A82 and the A9?

They not only prove that point but demonstrate the lack of investment that there had been over far too long a period by previous Governments. This Government wants to see improvements to the road infrastructure in the Highlands to help support Scotland’s economy and to better connect our cities and communities. That is why we are committed to pressing ahead with a major programme of works to dual the A9 between Perth and Inverness by 2025, the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen and other roads that the member will be familiar with, including the Tarbet to Inverarnan road and the A82, which involves some work that we have already done, such as that on the Crianlarich bypass.

It is important that, as with the Borders railway, all parts of Scotland get the benefit of the investment that they had been starved of for too long under previous Governments.

The AWPR has been a catalogue of errors for a long time now, and that is no more evident than in relation to the northernmost link of the road, which is the Balmedie to Tipperty section. I can tell the cabinet secretary that, regardless of what he said to Dean Lockhart, there absolutely was a promise that that section would open in spring 2017. However, it is still not open, which means that it is now a year overdue. Is the cabinet secretary seriously saying that even that section will not be open until late summer or early autumn, and will he apologise to the residents of the north-east who have had to put up with severe disruption to their lives for much longer than expected?

We have always said and readily acknowledge that any major infrastructure project of this type causes disruption, and we have tried to minimise that wherever possible.

Like Jackie Baillie, the member might not have been around in 1948, but that is when his predecessors in the Conservative Party and Jackie Baillie’s predecessors in the Labour Party started talking about this work, and I am sure that people can remember the Liberal Democrats talking about it in 1983. The member will also be aware of the legal history of the project and some of the delays that were caused in that regard. As soon as we were able to get through that legal process, we moved forward with the project, starting in 2014.

I know that the project has taken longer than we expected—I readily concede that point—and I regret that there has been disruption associated with it, although such disruption is common to most projects. However, we will crack on and try to get this road finished, and I am certain that it will happen far faster than was committed to by any previous party.

I am conscious that we are just out of time, but I will squeeze in the last two questions. The members should just ask a question, and the answers should be short.

Will the cabinet secretary correct the cost estimate of £745 million? It is clear that that is incorrect, given the extended timescales and the legal challenges involved. Substantial costs are involved.

No, I will not. The £745 million budget is still expected to be the cost. As James Kelly has pointed out, things can change, but I would be happy to provide him with any details of the cost. There is no change to that budget as a result of the change that I have announced to the time taken to complete the project. The contractor is responsible for taking on the costs of the delay. That is the way that the contract is written.

My apologies: I skipped past Gail Ross. I call Gail Ross.

What progress has been made on the procurement of the contract to deliver the A9 trunk road improvements at Berriedale braes? Will Transport Scotland review the availability of parking places on the A9 between Inverness and Caithness that are used by road freight and tourism traffic?

I am happy to do that. I apologise to Gail Ross for not having done so before, although I undertook to do so last week, I think.

The Berriedale braes project is another long-standing project that was not taken forward by previous Governments. Transport Scotland commenced dialogue on 26 February 2018 with four bidders, one of which has withdrawn its bid in the past week. The contract is expected to be awarded in late summer, with work commencing soon after that.

Transport Scotland is, of course, a member of the north coast 500 working group, which identified a need to review parking opportunities along the route that Gail Ross asked about. Transport Scotland has commissioned a review of the A9 between Inverness and Caithness to identify whether there are opportunities for increased parking facilities for all road users, including tourists and those with commercial vehicles. That could have the potential to provide locations for slower-moving vehicles to pull in and allow others to pass.

I welcome Transport Scotland’s approachability in the consultation process for the Hardmuir to Fochabers section of the A96. Will the cabinet secretary give some thought to how the co-creative process could be used to ensure that the community has an even bigger role in shaping the road?

The co-creative process, which Richard Lochhead referred to, is, of course, being used in relation to the A9 for the first time in any major project. It has been a great way to ensure that we have the maximum possible community engagement, especially on issues that can be quite difficult in view of the options that the people who are developing the project have. I think that I said in a previous answer to Gillian Martin that we have made the offer that that process could be available to other groups, as well. We are, of course, happy to follow that through in relation to the A96 project.