HIE urged to adopt rural leader project
NFU Scotland members have written to Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) urging it to adopt the successful Rural Leadership Programme (RLP) currently available in other parts of Scotland.
The letter to HIE chairman Lorne Crerar has been signed by the NFUS Highland regional chairman Martin Birse, Orkney and Shetland chairman Paul Ross, Argyll and the Islands chairman John Dickson and Sandy Murray, who chairs the union’s Crofting, Highlands and Islands Committee.
The RLP, delivered on behalf of Scottish Enterprise (SE) by SAC Consulting, has just celebrated its 10th anniversary, with almost 450 people from rural backgrounds benefiting from a course that has seen them developing their leadership skills and growing their businesses.
However, similar funding and support is not available to rural people living and working in the HIE area. The NFUS said it firmly believes that the rural economy of the Highlands and Islands would be bolstered if HIE were to fund applicants.
In their letter, the group state: ‘ We strongly believe that the lack of access to this programme for people in the HIE area is hugely detrimental to the Highlands and Islands, and is severely disadvantaging potential rural leaders here, compared to those in the SE area.
‘There is some limited support to rural leadership from HIE but the reality is that what it currently offers in terms of leadership for rural businesses, particularly to smaller farmbased ones, is not effective in developing rural leaders in the way that the RLP does.
‘Independent evaluation of the RLP has shown that the programme is having a very direct and positive impact on the rural economy in the SE area. This includes the creation or safe- guarding of employment, the start-up of new rural businesses and the launch of new products.
‘More importantly, it creates confidence in people’s ability to lead and dramatically improves their motivation.
‘The rural economy and the agricultural industry desperately needs leaders with ambition, who also have the skills to help them realise their aims. It has been shown in the SE area that the RLP provides these skills, while also developing a key network of leaders across the region – and that is what we are missing out on.
‘As well as targeting existing farmers and crofters, we believe that to engage with more women from farming and crofting backgrounds, to enable our young entrepreneurs to develop their businesses and to encourage people to stand for the Crofting Commission elections, developing these rural leaders across the HIE network is essential.’