Just over a week after Nick Clegg mourned the coalition’s woeful lack of spending on major infrastructure projects, the Scottish government yesterday published an update to its own Infrastructure Investment Plan, first unveiled in December 2011.
The proposals contain infrastructure projects, costing more than £20 million, that are planned and underway across Scotland up to 2030, bringing the Scottish government’s overall spending on capital investment to £3.1 billion for 2012/13, which it is estimated will create, ministers suggest, more than 40,000 jobs across the Scottish economy.
The figure is set to rise further in 2013/14 when a total of £3.4 billion of capital investment is planned.
Yesterday’s proposals point to several projects being completed and becoming operational in 2013/14, including the Aberdeen Community Health and Care Village, Lasswade and Eastwood High Schools, Dumbarton Academy, Auchmuty High School, and Glasgow School of Art estate development.
Ministers also expect “significant progress” being made on the non-profit distribution (NPD) scheme, which they argue is a fairer alternative to PPP/PFI tie-ups with the private sector in 2013/14, including projects such as the Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary entering procurement and others such as Inverness College and City of Glasgow College moving into construction.
Declaring the plans announced to be ones which could play a significant role in stimulating growth “in the short term and lay the foundations for long term success”, deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon argued they showed clearly how the Scottish government will do that “despite substantial and ill thought through cuts in our capital budget from Westminster of some 26 per cent”.
Arguing the only shovel-ready project in Scotland is a hole the first minister has dug himself into, Richard Baker, Labour’s shadow cabinet secretary for infrastructure and capital investment responded by accusing ministers of being all talk but no action.
“When this plan was first announced we said it was a wish-list. Since then projects have been further delayed and we now know that of £353 million which was meant to be invested in key projects this year, only £20 million is actually being spent.
“In fact, the only shovel-ready project which has been evident recently was the hole the first minister dug himself into on this issue at the last question time. Presumably the SNP are now seeking to cover up his embarrassment.
“If the SNP were really serious about developing the new approach to infrastructure we need they would back Labour’s plans for all the £330 million consequentials in the budget to be spent on housing. This would boost our economy and provide the affordable homes so many families are waiting for.
“The SNP’s failure on capital spending is shocking. No wonder only one in eight Scots trust Nicola Sturgeon. She needs to spend less time with her Borgen DVDs and more time delivering for Scotland.”
The Scottish Conservatives, meanwhile, have pointed to what they argue are a series of projects going over-budget:
• Whilst the Aberdeen bypass had previously been estimated to cost as little as £295 million, Scottish Conservatives have accused that the SNP is now putting the cost at more than £650 million;
• The A90 upgrade between Balmedie and Tipperty, formerly projected to cost between £53 million and £63 million, is now forecast to cost £92 million;
• Improvements to the M873 and M874 are now estimated at £415 million, compared to £280 million last year, and the timescale for the Stornoway to Ullapool ferry project has slipped by a year to 2014;
• The Infrastructure Investment Plan appears to have cut Scottish government investment in fuel poverty and energy efficiency from £196 million to only £68 million.
Declaring the announcements amounted to a “bribe” ahead of the 2014 independence referendum, Scottish Conservative infrastructure spokesman Alex Johnstone MSP concluded:
“This might as well be called the lack of progress report. What we have is a list of schemes that are running over budget or behind schedule, then a new wish list with no detail on where the money will come from or how it will be delivered.
“The SNP might think the announcement of these projects will act as bribe for voters ahead of the separation referendum in 2014, but people see right through this sort of thing.”
Scottish Lib Dem Leader, Willie Rennie meanwhile called on the Minister’s to outline plans to accelerate spending on capital projects. He expanded:
“There is no explanation of the ways that the Scottish government is accelerating its spending on capital even though it got £394 million extra from the UK Government last autumn.
“In fact, the Scottish government has been silent on how it proposes to use the half that is available for 2014-15. Potential developers who need to know this basic information will be frustrated. It won’t help them plan.
“If the Scottish government got its act together it could work faster on projects such as speedier rail links to Inverness and Aberdeen and dualling of the A9.”