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A96 Investigation: Richard Lochhead urged to resign in protest at Scottish Government dualling ‘scandal’

By Lewis McBlane

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FOLLOWING our exclusive A96 dualling investigation, a local councillor has pushed Moray MSP Richard Lochhead to resign as a minister to protest a “scandal” of scrapped deadlines, funding cuts and an apparent lack of transparency surrounding the project.

Moray Council's Labour group leader Sandy Keith urges Moray MSP Richard Lochhead to resign in protest.
Moray Council's Labour group leader Sandy Keith urges Moray MSP Richard Lochhead to resign in protest.

Labour group leader Councillor Sandy Keith (Labour, Elgin City North), said the MSP should step down from the government to push for answers on A96 dualling.

However Mr Lochhead said that Cllr Keith could be experiencing “a little election fever”, with this year’s looming UK General Election.

He encouraged the Elgin councillor to “direct some of his ire at the UK Tories” which, he argued, have slashed Scottish Government budgets.

And he argued that Labour, unlike the SNP, failed to commit to A96 dualling while they were in power.

Cllr Keith said the Scottish Government’s approach to improving the trunk road, exposed by The Northern Scot’s investigation, amounted to a “scandal”.

He urged Mr Lochhead to “stand up for the people of Moray” by resigning.

During the time period covered in our A96 investigation, between autumn 2020 and autumn 2023, Mr Lochhead was not a cabinet secretary and had no responsibility for A96 dualling.

However, Cllr Keith said he believed that early decisions on stalling the scheme may have been made while the Moray MSP was at the cabinet table between 2007 and 2016.

"What makes the situation even worse is that our local MSP has sat in the cabinet for most of the last 17 years whilst the A96 improvements have been sidelined,” Cllr Keith said.

“And he has either not known about it or agreed with the decision to deprioritise the dualling of the A96.

"Either way Mr Lochhead needs to consider his position now that this scandal is now fully revealed and stand up for the people of Moray.”

In response, Mr Lochhead said: “I know it’s election year and perhaps Cllr Keith has got a little election fever.

“But perhaps he should direct some of his ire at the UK Tories, who are making life incredibly difficult for families and businesses across Moray and Scotland.

“The Scottish budget has also taken a hit from the Tories, yet Cllr Keith is attacking me.

“It’s also worth noting that I don’t recall Labour making any commitment to dual the A96 when in government and it took an SNP administration to put this on the agenda."

The MSP has represented Moray, at least in part, for nearly 25 years.

Between 1999 and 2006, Mr Lochhead was a regional MSP for the north east, which includes Moray’s eastern fringe, and he became the constituency MSP in 2006.

Speaking to The Northern Scot in 2011, after the Scottish Government pledged to dual the road by 2030, Mr Lochhead said the scheme was “critical” to Moray’s economy.

After his cabinet stint ended in 2016, he spent two years on the backbenches before again becoming a minister in 2018.

He has now been outside the cabinet for almost eight years and none of his ministerial posts have been linked to the A96 project.

Our A96 Investigation

Our investigation’s first part revealed internal emails which showed that the Scottish Government wiped all references to their 2011 pledge to dual the A96 by 2030 from a pivotal policy document more than three years ago.

Since that date, the Scottish Government has never confirmed or denied the deadline's status.

The week after, we revealed that less than 0.5 per cent of the A96 dualling's price tag has been pledged until 2026, and then-transport secretary Mr Matheson signed off on the removal of budget figures from spending plans.

As a result, more than £1 billion a year would need to be spent on the road to meet the 2030 promise - during a period in which vital projects, including hospitals, have been paused indefinitely.

Finally, last week we revealed internal documents confirming that "no funding" before 2026 is available for A96 dualling sections which might survive the project’s ongoing review.

And we also exposed the review's original timeline - showing that the electorate could be denied the chance to see final plans before this year's General Election.

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