Renewed criticism has been levelled against the Scottish government over its controversial plans to abolish the governing board of Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
Labour MSP Rhoda Grant says she has been “astonished” and “angered” by a response from economy secretary Keith Brown to a parliamentary question on HIE decision making powers.
Last year the SNP announced plans to establish a new overarching Scotland-wide board for enterprise and skills, which prompted widespread fears over Scottish government centralisation.
Ms Grant asked Mr Brown whether HIE would continue to decide the strategic priorities for its investment and social development in the Highlands and Islands following the establishment of the single Scotland-wide board.
In response, Mr Brown said HIE would retain its chief executive based at its headquarters in Inverness. He said staff would also continue to operate from Inverness, and HIE’s area-based locations across the area “from Lerwick to Lochgilphead”.
He added: “HIE senior management will continue to work in the same way as they do now but will benefit from the coordination provided by the new Scotland-wide statutory board.”
Ms Grant said that was “deeply insulting to senior management of HIE”.
“The cabinet secretary has stated that HIE senior management will continue to work in the same way as they do now but will benefit from the coordination provided by the new Scotland-wide statutory board. I find this grossly insulting to both HIE senior management and existing board members who know the needs and strategic priorities of this area like the back of their hands.
“Keith Brown has also stated that the Scottish government would expect that there will be strong Highlands and Islands representation on the new single board. At the very least I would think they would be ensuring that there would be strong Highlands and Islands representation on the board.
“The Cabinet Secretary has also stated that there is no commitment to a single geographic HQ for the board. Does this mean they just haven’t decided where this new board would be located, or if it will have a base at all?
“Earlier this week we were told that the Scottish government has admitted it cannot give a list of organisations that back scrapping the HIE board. I can give them a lengthy list of organisations who totally oppose the scrapping of the HIE board. The more digging we do on this, the more it seems clear that there was little or no thinking put into this wholly unpopular, control-freak, decision. I will not give up the fight to have this decision reversed.”
The Scottish government has previously said it recognised the different social, economic and community development challenges facing the isles, and would maintain “dedicated support which is locally based, managed and directed by HIE”.
But the SNP says it wants to ensure the Highlands and Islands benefit from “better national co-ordination” to provide the best possible support to business.