Lib Dems attack ‘panicked’ Nats over scrapping of HIE
SNP pair under fire over attempts to soften Holyrood proposal
Lib Dems have branded SNP attempts to settle the row over the scrapping of Highlands and Islands Enterprise as a “panicked attempt to save face”.
But nationalists Ian Blackford and Kate Forbes accused their critics of “negativity”.
Scottish ministers provoked fury late last year by confirming plans to axe HIE’s dedicated board and replace it with a panel overseeing several bodies.
Opponents have claimed the move will undermine 50 years of progress in the region.
In an attempt to defuse the situation, Mr Blackford, MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, has proposed the new board goes ahead, but that HIE retains its own management board.
Ms Forbes wants to see the replacement board based in the Highlands.
Lib Dem MSPs Liam McArthur and Tavish Scott, who have campaigned against the idea, dismissed the proposals.
They accused the SNP of being in a “blind spin” over the future of HIE, calling the proposal “a centralisation too far”.
The pair said: “Ministers want to abolish the board. Nationalist backbenchers agree.
“Now an SNP MP wants to keep the board, but make it accountable to the centralised pan- Scotland board in the central belt.
“That is a proposal based not on logic or good decision-making, but on a panicked attempt to save face.
“Removing strategic decision-making over eco- nomic development from the Highlands and islands will damage the region.
“Rather than come up with more convoluted ways to justify a policy no one supports, ministers should just abandon their plans.”
Mr Blackford said HIE would be strengthened by the opportunities to work on a collaborative basis with the other enterprise agencies in the new overarching strategic board.
He added: “We are ambitious for the Highlands and islands, it is a pity that the Liberal Democrats, a party that once had great strength in our region, can only deliver negativity.”
Ms Forbes, Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP, also condemned the Lib Dems’ “relentlessly negative rhetoric”.
She said: “We are in the midst of a review of the enterprise agencies – and that means that all ideas and suggestions are welcome.”
The P& J’s Keep HIE Local campaign has been backed by all opposition parties, Highland Council, the trade unions, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) and former chairmen and chief executives of the agency.
The Scottish Government has confirmed the issue will be considered during the second phase of the enterprise and skills review.
ALTERNATIVE: Kate Forbes, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, suggested that the board set up to replace HIE could still be based in the Highland region