Lib Dems at­tack ‘pan­icked’ Nats over scrap­ping of HIE

SNP pair un­der fire over at­tempts to soften Holy­rood pro­posal

The Press and Journal (Highlands & Islands) - - News - BY LIND­SAY RAZAQ PO­LIT­I­CAL RE­PORTER

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

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