U-turn over plans to axe board
CONTROVERSIAL plans to scrap the board of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) have been dropped.
Scottish economy secretary Keith Brown confirmed last Thursday that HIE will continue to be managed and run in the Highlands.
But plans for an overarching strategic board to oversee the activities of all the enterprise and skills bodies are still going ahead.
Proposals for a shake-up of Scottish enterprise and skills agencies came after Professor Lorne Crerar’s review into the bodies.
Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes welcomed the news saying she was ‘delighted’ the name, functions and structures of HIE will remain the same. She said: ‘Since the review of Highlands and Islands Enterprise was first announced, I have made clear my strong belief that HIE should be based, managed and operated in the Highlands.’
And the MSP said a collaboration with other agencies will ‘strengthen’ the board’s position.
‘I want to see HIE strengthened with greater resources and more opportunities to collaborate with other agencies and bodies for the benefit of the Highland economy and Highland communities,’ she said.
‘I am pleased by the government’s commitment to not just preserving HIE as we know it, but strengthening it with opportunities to work with other bodies in Scotland.
‘It is only right that after several decades of HIE’s existence, that the Scottish Government established a review to determine whether HIE could be strengthened.’
But one opposition MSP said it was a ‘humiliating U-turn’ by the SNP on the decision. Scottish Labour Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant said: ‘It is welcome that the Nationalists have scrapped their plan to centralise control of the Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The independence of the board should never have been put at risk in the first place.
‘Decisions about the Highlands and Islands economy are best taken locally, rather than by ministers sitting behind a desk in Edinburgh. We will watch very carefully to ensure the strategic board does not encroach on the responsibilities of the Highlands and Islands board.’
Ms Forbes added: ‘ HIE has been a force for good and the Highland economy has been strengthened in part through HIE’s work with Highland businesses and communities.
‘Like the cabinet secretary said, we want to see a step change in the Highland economy. There are entrepreneurs and small businesses across the Highlands who have benefited from support from HIE.
‘There are communities who have employed local development officers to open up opportunities. That support will not just continue but be strengthened.’
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan also welcomed the announcement saying: ‘There was never any doubt about HIE’s future as an organisation, or that it would continue to be locally-based, managed and directed. However, I did appreciate the worries people had about the board and I hope the commitment given today will allay those concerns.
‘HIE performs incredibly valuable work in the Western Isles in helping to create and sustain jobs, and these new arrangements should protect and enhance the unique service they provide to us.’