The Scottish Government will fail to deliver on its plan to invest £26billion in infrastructure projects because of budget cuts and rising costs, the spending watchdog has said.  

Auditor General for Scotland Stephen Boyle said it meant delays in upgrading key parts of the public estate, including hospitals and prisons, despite “significant” need.

Delays in building six of 11 new national treatment centres supposed to cut NHS backlogs caused by the pandemic also meant it was unlikely promises to patients would be kept.

Mr Boyle said an ambition to double maintenance spending would also be missed, and ministers should get rid of some of their existing buildings to save money. 

Opposition parties called it a “damning indictment” of the SNP’s record in office.

Then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promised in her 2018 Programme for Government that infrastructure investment would rise to £34.2bn in the current 2021-2026 parliament.

However the Scottish Government has so far identified £26bn worth of road, rail, hospital and other building projects, and provided details for just £14.9bn of those.

Mr Boyle said even the partial target of £26bn would be missed because the Scottish Government simply didn’t have enough money to finish them on time.

He said a combination of reduced capital budgets set by Westminster, higher costs and increased maintenance requirements had left ministers facing “difficult decisions” on capital spending, including pausing or stopping some projects.  

Ministers are expecting a 7% real-terms cut in the capital block grant Holyrood receives from the UK Government between 2023/24 and 2027/28.

But as its funding goes down, its costs are going up because of inflation, with the bill for planned projects increasing by £55m in the first half of 2023 alone. 

The Scottish Government’s investment plan focuses on driving inclusive economic growth, enabling the transition to net-zero emissions, and building resilient and sustainable places. 

But Mr Boyle said it was “not always clear” how ministers were funding each of these priorities, nor how they would contribute to reducing greenhouse gases.

He said there must be more transparency and better data on the condition, occupancy and cost of the  public estate to ensure buildings were used more efficiently.

In a new report out today, he said parts of the prison estate, including Victorian-era Barlinnie jail in Glasgow, are causing “significant concern”, but replacements were being delayed.

He also highlighted delays and cost increases on plans to electrify the Borders railway, build a new college campus in Dunfermline, and dual the A9 between Perth and Inverness.

He urged the Government to start preparing for the return of 22 PFI projects with a capital value  of £900m to the public sector by 2030, implying ongoing costs and some final contract payments.

The report also highlighted the £1.1bn maintenance backlog in the NHS, saying ministers would have to reassess their infrastructure priorities, particularly in light of new “significant costs” to tackle potentially unsafe reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac).

The report said: “The Scottish Government will need to understand and deal with backlog maintenance as well as investing in new infrastructure. If it does not do this, it runs the risk of service interruptions and larger investments being needed in the future.” 

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “This report is a damning indictment of the SNP’s mishandling of the public finances. 

“Ministers continue to receive billions in funding from the UK Government, yet are falling woefully short of delivering the infrastructure investment required.

“Because the SNP-Green government have made Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK, our economy is uncompetitive and not generating sufficient growth to fund these crucial projects. Failure to invest in infrastructure will further hold us back, creating a vicious circle.”

Labour MSP Daniel Johnson added: “The SNP’s infrastructure plan is crumbling around them but they aren’t lifting a finger to deal with these major challenges. Schools, hospitals and public transport are all under threat as a result of this chaos. Ministers must listen to the warnings in this damning report and come clean with the public about their plans.”

Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie also said the SNP had “created a vicious cycle”.  

He said: “By failing to grow the economy, ministers have left less money for investment in critical infrastructure, which in turn only worsens economic performance.”    

Responding to the report, deputy First Minister and Finance Secretary Shona Robison said: “The Scottish Government is firmly committed to infrastructure investment as a key factor in securing inclusive economic growth and delivering high-quality public services.

“The challenging economic conditions of the last few years resulting from Brexit and high inflation as well as the real-terms fall in the capital grant allocation from the UK Government have led to delays for some infrastructure projects.

“Looking ahead we are having to prioritise projects and programmes so the capital spending available is targeted. We have also started work on delivering a more efficient approach to the management of public sector property that will save public funds and enable organisations to step towards a net zero estate.”