U-turn over plans to axe board

The Oban Times - - News - EL­LIE FORBES eforbes@oban­times.co.uk

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.’

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