Government criticised for ‘obstructing openness’ over plans for HIE centralisation

An MSP has likened getting Scottish government answers on HIE centralisation to “wrestling with jelly” after the Edinburgh administration failed to release details of its controversial plans.

Tavish Scott has called on the SNP administration to stop dodging the issue and come clean on its intentions to abolish the HIE board, which has been put forward as part of an enterprise and skills review.

It comes after the Liberal Democrats were denied a freedom of information request for copies of ministerial and official communications on plans for the enterprise agency.

The Scottish government says ministers will bring an updated statement to the parliament in the coming weeks.

Mr Scott said officials from the Holyrood administration failed to respond until nearly two months after the statutory deadline for responses. They argued the requested information failed the “public interest test”. The Lib Dems are now appealing this decision to the Scottish Information Commissioner.

The Lib Dems say their request for information was submitted on 28th November. It asked for all correspondence with HIE about the enterprise and skills review and HIE’s board – as well as minutes of all meetings where HIE’s board and the review were discussed.

The request also sought all correspondence between, or from, Scottish government ministers, or officials, about HIE’s board and the review in relation to HIE.

Officials excused the delay to “transitioning the review project team from phase one to phase two and the impact of the Christmas holiday period”. However, they confirmed that it took 20 working days for information to clear the “internal review and clearance procedures”.

Mr Scott says the Scottish government only released information with regards to the setting up of a skills and enterprise review group.


We already know no one proposed or supported the governments plans for a new overarching board. Now, with this latest failure to be transparent, the government evidently has more to hide. TAVISH SCOTT


The freedom of information request was rejected, with officials arguing the information sought failed the “public interest test” as the benefits of transparency and openness were “outweighed by the public interest in creating an environment which fosters collaborative engagement in the iterative development of rounded and robust policy positions.”

Mr Scott said: “The Scottish government should come clean on its arguments for changing HIE. It is right that parliament should know what ministers have discussed, with whom and why. This is a big decision with major consequences for economic and social development in the Highlands and Islands.

“People deserve to know what is being done by the government and why. Fighting and obstructing freedom of information requests are a sign of secrecy and obstruction. Not openness and transparency.

“Time and again, like wrestling with jelly, Liberal Democrats have questioned SNP ministers over their ill-judged proposals. We already know no one proposed or supported the governments plans for a new overarching board. Now, with this latest failure to be transparent, the government evidently has more to hide.

“It is the expressed will of parliament to retain the current powers of HIE. Ministers have no option but to respect that decision.”

The row over HIE has been rumbling on since last year, when it first emerged the Scottish government had planned the abolition of the HIE’s governing board in Edinburgh – a move which has sparked renewed fears Shetland could lose out through centralisation.

More recently, the SNP administration has refused to walk away from the proposals, despite suffering a parliamentary defeat at Holyrood.

The Scottish government says its aim is to give businesses, and individuals, the right access and support to national services. It says that will help to boost the economy through increased productivity, equality, wellbeing and sustainability.

The government insists that HIE will continue to be “locally-based, managed and directed” and said a strategic board would “enhance services for businesses”.

A statement to parliament is expected in the next few weeks.


Add Your Comment
  • Peter Hamilton

    • March 9th, 2017 10:18

    No doubt Tavish deserves praise for getting stuck into this important issue. It’s a pity he has different set of standards when it comes to holding Shetland Charitable Trust to account. Presumably that jelly is just too fishy to wrestle.

  • James Paton

    • March 9th, 2017 12:39

    Interested to read yet another meaningless attack on the Scottish Government by Tavish, in the guise of so called political representation. I’m no fan of the SNP – too right wing for me- although a supporter of independence, but whilst Tavish makes a big deal out of the administrative issue of Freedom of Information and related bureaucracy he does not pose the hard questions or indeed vision (fat chance) about the issues of economic development and sustainability of the Shetland Islands. People perhaps do not have long memories – a day is indeed a long time, and perhaps these days, a boring one in politics – but the Liberal Democrats did a great deal of economic and social damage during their pro-banking and pro austerity ‘love-in’ with the Tories from 2010-2015. What exactly is Tavish’s detailed vision for the Shetland economy, beyond maintaining hand-outs and patronage from Edinburgh, irrespective of political party control and weak attempts at political point scoring? How many Liberal-Democrat perspective councillors will be standing in May and what is their manifesto for the Shetland economy? The people should be told.

    • Bill Adams

      • March 9th, 2017 15:17

      James, you will find that trying to pin Tavish Scott down on anything is akin to trying to pin
      a blancmange to a wall.


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