The Scottish government has backed down from its controversial plans to scrap the Highlands and Islands Enterprise board, following months of political arguments about the move.
The SNP administration’s economy secretary, Keith Brown, has announced to Holyrood that the board will not, after all, be ditched, but will be answerable to the new national strategic board for enterprise and skills.
HIE had been the subject of a contentious review which backed just one board for the whole country. That led to accusations of centralisation being thrown at the SNP authority.
The decision not to press ahead with the original proposals has provoked a mixed reaction. Prospective councillor Gary Robinson has welcomed the move. However, Isles MSP Tavish Scott has warned the decision is still a backward step.
Mr Robinson said: “Nobody that I spoke to could see any sense in what was being proposed. 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.”
But Mr Scott warned that the new overarching board should not jeopardise HIE’s future.
“Highlands and Islands Enterprise should set its own strategy. A strategy based on what the Highlands and Islands need. 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.”