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5 problems people in Tayside and Fife want politicians to fix as Holyrood opens for 2023

Nicola Sturgeon celebrates with some of the newly elected SNP councillors in Dundee at the V&A
Nicola Sturgeon was all smiles in Dundee at the last council election, but will 2023 be tougher? Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson

Nicola Sturgeon is back in Holyrood this week as MSPs get down to business after the Christmas break.

But with no independence referendum in the diary for 2023, what should politicians be focusing their efforts on?

There is a long list of problems being stored up across public services, from health to transport, and money is tight everywhere.

Here are five areas across Dundee, Angus, Perthshire and Fife locals believe are crying out for improvement.

1. Local services

Dundee council chief John Alexander sounded the alarm before Christmas that no one at Holyrood or Westminster is offering clear answers to his ease his financial headache.

His own administration faces an £18 million budget reduction over the next year – and that is before taking into account rising costs such as energy bills.

Council leader John Alexander. Picture by Alan Richardson.

Council tax provides around 18% of Dundee City Council’s budget.

He’s not the only one worried about services which everyone relies on.

Cash-strapped Perth and Kinross Council has warned of “significant” job cuts as it faces a £28 million funding gap over the next three years.

Angus Council has a £51 million black hole in its budget.

And Fife Council will likely to have to find £16.9 million to plug an expected budget gap by 2023-24 – rising to £29.3 million the following year.

Cosla, the umbrella body for Scotland’s councils, has also warned “essential services councils deliver have not been prioritised” in the government’s spending plans.

The SNP promised in 2007 to replace council tax with a new funding system but ditched that plan.

Local leaders might also have an eye on councils in England, particularly Kent and Hampshire.

Both warned previously that their budget deficits could end in bankruptcy.

2. Crisis-hit health service

The new year began as the previous one ended – with calls for Health Secretary Humza Yousaf to quit.

New analysis showed a total of 845,643 hospital days have been lost to delayed discharges since Mr Yousaf took the job in May 2021.

SNP health chief Humza Yousaf. Image: PA.

Our own project revealed the full scale of the problems facing services in Tayside and Fife.

While politicians across the UK have struggled to keep the NHS in good health, Mr Yousaf has also been criticised.

In a special investigation published in November, we exposed a Tayside breast cancer scandal.

Our documentary lifted the lid on alarming new evidence and claims of a cover-up.

The SNP is now the only party at Holyrood that has not yet backed a public inquiry.

Meanwhile, Dundee’s drug deaths crisis is the simmering emergency that critics say has all too often been allowed to fall out of the spotlight.

The number of drug-related deaths had decreased for the second year running when figures were released in July but remain far too high at 52.

Dundee Drug and Alcohol Partnership chair Simon Little
Dundee Drug and Alcohol Partnership chair Simon Little quit the role last year. Image: Steve Brown

The situation was thrown into further turmoil after the city’s addiction tsar quit his role amid growing frustration over the “glacial” pace of progress.

3. Olympia pool scandal

There have been growing calls for an independent investigation into the controversial closure of the Olympia leisure centre.

The most recent of these came in December when North East MSP Maurice Golden insisted an expert should be brought in to look at corrosion concerns.

It is one of the reasons the swimming pools were forced to shut for at least two years for repairs worth £6 million.

Olympia pools. Dundee. Supplied by DCT Media.

The centre is currently due to reopen in October 2023, leaving those living in Dundee and the surrounding area with no major public leisure facility.

Emails obtained by The Courier revealed problems with the Olympia building were first flagged up years before the centre was closed.

Despite this, no major repair work requiring the closure of the facility had been carried out since 2014 — just a year after it opened.

Issues included rust falling onto the poolside, leaks near electrical equipment and severe corrosion.

4. Deliver A9 road promise

In November, Transport chiefs blamed “market changes” as the excuse for long delays in publishing a blueprint for the long-awaited A9 dualling project.

A strategy was supposed to be published in summer 2021 but is still not complete.

Only two out of 11 sections of the road between Perth and Inverness have been constructed so far, despite a 2025 completion date.

Dual carriageway ahead sign near Pitlochry. Image: Kris Miller.

Campaigners say the government is treating communities living on the route like a “forgotten backwater”.

5. Ferry link to Europe

Dunfermline MP Douglas Chapman visited Copenhagen in October for talks with shipping bosses in the hope of bringing back a direct ferry link from Rosyth to Europe.

The SNP formally backed the plan at their conference in Aberdeen.

But Brexit, problems finding a vessel and the government’s insistence that the route must be fully commercially run could all provide stumbling blocks.

Douglas Chapman. Image: Supplied.

Shipping firm DFDS is keen to restore the link and signed an agreement with Scottish company Ptarmigan Shipping in June.

A direct ferry route to Zeebrugge could provide major economic benefits for the local area but it remains to be seen if politicians can help get a deal over the line.