THE SCOTTISH Government has backed down over its proposals to abolish the board of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), but concerns remain over its autonomy.
While the economic development agency will now not be scrapped, it will be placed onto a new “national strategic board” alongside Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Funding Council and Skills Development Scotland.
Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said the move to create a national board was a “step backwards” and suggested HIE’s “strategy will be determined” by the Central Belt.
The news was confirmed by economy secretary Keith Brown at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday.
In January the SNP government lost a vote at the Scottish Parliament to scrap the HIE board by 64-63.
The result was not binding and it was up to the government to decide on the future of the organisation.
Brown also confirmed on Thursday that a new enterprise agency would be created for the south of Scotland.
MSPs broadly welcomed the move, but Labour regional list member Rhoda Grant said ministers will “watch very carefully to ensure that the strategic board does not encroach on the responsibilities of the Highlands and Islands board.”
Scott echoed the concerns and suggested that HIE will keep its name, but could lose some of its independence.
“Highlands and Islands Enterprise should set its own strategy. A strategy based on what the Highlands and Islands need,” he said.
“Economic and social development from Skaw in Unst to Argyll. But no longer. The HIE strategy will be determined by a central belt based board. Once the one-Scotland approach has been decided, HIE can implement that.
“Sadly this is a step backwards. The only justification the government make is that their own agencies fail to help HIE with international work for local businesses. That is an appalling admission. Minsters should read the riot act. They should sort that out.
“No evidence has been presented that shows HIE is not working, either by the government or in the Crerar report. So why place HIE under a central belt board when the problems all appear to be in Glasgow? I fear this is the slippery slope to merging all the economic development bodies into one super quango.”
Shetland Islands Council political leader Gary Robinson said that “nobody” he spoke to saw “any sense” in the government’s proposals.
He said: “Shetland Islands Council has a longstanding and strong relationship with the enterprise agency both locally and with the wider agency network.
“I wrote to the cabinet secretary at the end of last year urging him to reconsider his proposal to abolish HIE’s Board so that control of the service could remain in the Highlands and Islands where it firmly belongs.
“I’m very pleased that this attempt to centralise the agency has been rejected.”
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