Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons is off to Australia this weekend to attend a social enterprise forum in Melbourne, prompting criticism from the isles’ MSP.
The development body will be represented by Mr Gibbons at the forum, with the trip being funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE). According to their press statement, the event will “promote high level discussion on the future of social enterprise”.
The group are to be joined by a larger Scottish contingent including representatives from housing associations, the NHS, the Scottish government and social enterprises and firms from across Scotland.
The statement continues: “The highly charged programme will allow the participants to interact with each other and international policy makers, funders and support agencies.”
Mr Gibbons said the trip was coming at a key time in the development of Shetland Arts, as it looks forward to opening its £12.2 million cinema and music venue in early 2011. “We are very grateful for HIE’s support in allowing us to attend this event,” he said.
“Attending an event of this scale will bring huge benefits, both by allowing us to connect with other creative arts enterprises nationally and internationally and by learning from other creative local enterprises with successful sustainable business models.”
But isles MSP Tavish Scott said it was a questionable use of public money in a time of severe economic constraints in the public and private sector. He said: “Many small businesses are looking for financial assistance and HIE have no budget to now help. While this visit may be useful, I think there are more deserving areas for public money at this difficult time.”
As well as attending the world forum event, the group will visit social enterprises in Broome, a tourist town in the Kimberley region of West Australia. HIE’s Kerrien Grant said rural aspects of social enterprise in Australia mirrored those of the Highlands and Islands, with “long distances and dispersed populations being two obvious comparisons to make”.
“After the world forum we will meet with a number of Aboriginal people who have set up and are running social enterprises in eco tourism, crafts, health, media and aquaculture. By being the chance to see, question and experience these social enterprises we will be gaining insights into the motivation, commitment and future potential of these communities.”