Highlands and Islands must be embraced into the national agenda, pledges Salmond
ALEX Salmond yesterday moved to strengthen Scotland’s embrace of the Highlands and Islands.
The region’s representation on the Scottish Government’s new National Economic Forum is to be strengthened, while the First Minister went out of his way to stress how vital the area is to the government’s aim of increasing sustainable economic growth.
He was speaking at the Convention of the Highlands and Islands which met in Shetland yesterday. But before the meeting had begun, Sandy Cluness, convener of Shetland Islands Council, publicly urged the Scottish Government to stop centralising services in areas such as tourism and water. He sought an islands committee and a dedicated islands minister at Holyrood.
Mr Salmond, however, wanted the Highlands and Islands to be more closely involved in national affairs.
Two new representatives nominated by the Convention of Highlands and Islands will join the next meeting of the National Economic Forum to ensure the voice of the region.
Mr Salmond said: “The Highlands and Islands have a vast amount to offer as a place to do business. The quality of life, the quality of the workforce and the quality of the area as a tourist destination are second to none.
“Already, we have reformed and refocused Highlands and Islands Enterprise, we are delivering the Small Business Bonus to cut or eliminate business rates for small businesses, and we are supporting the local authorities to freeze council tax levels.
“However, we must do more if we are to match the UK growth rate by 2011, and in the longer term join the arc of prosperity which surrounds Scotland’s shores.”
He added: “The convention provides vital engagement between the government and representatives from across the region. But we believe it can make an even greater contribution to economic policy for the whole of Scotland.
“That is why today I have asked the convention to nominate two representatives to take up places on the National Economic Forum.
“This will give the Highlands and Islands a clear channel through which to raise issues of importance that the diverse communities of the region face. And it will ensure the Highlands and Islands are given the fullest possible consideration as we plan Scotland’s future economic prosperity.”