Carmichael criticises HIE in call for fresh start on economic development

A call has been made for the “revitalisation” of island economies to help mitigate against the impact of coronavirus.

Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has highlighted what he sees as weaknesses in Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

The Liberal Democrat says HIE requires “new vision and purpose” – with the force of government and the vision of business.

Speaking in the House of Commons Mr Carmichael said: “It seems that the debate is passing on to the next phase, about how we reopen and re-grow our economy.

“That is difficult in every part of the country, but none more so than the Highlands and Islands.

“We need a return to having an economic development force within the Highlands and Islands with the same vision and purpose that the Highlands and Islands development board had when it was set up by the Wilson Government in 1965.

“It had access to government and all the opportunities that could come from the force of the public sector, but added to that, it had the force, vision and experience of business.

“That was more or less what we got with its successor body, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, but the current Highlands and Islands Enterprise is a sorry shadow of what it used to be.”

However, a statement issued by HIE’s Calum Macfarlane stated:  “Our board members have in-depth knowledge and experience of the region and its economy and social structure.

“They also bring experience of industries and opportunities relevant to future growth.

“We have around 300 employees in ten offices across the region, with in-depth knowledge of challenges, opportunities and strengths relevant to their own areas. They work with hundreds of client businesses and communities, enabling them to access the wide range of support available, to help them grow and become more competitive and resilient.

“Having spent recent months helping businesses and communities access government support in response to the pandemic, our role will become increasingly focussed on supporting recovery.

“HIE has always taken a place based approach to development, considering projects and how we support them at a sub-regional level to ensure that all parts of our region have the opportunity to grow and develop.

“Moving forward, much of this will be around the net-zero targets and green recovery, where the region has many natural advantages, and through our involvement in growth deals in the region.

“Inclusive growth and progressing the Fairwork agenda will also be crucial, as will collaboration with partner agencies on initiatives that support talent attraction and population growth.

“We will ensure we continue to make a positive impact across all parts of the Highlands and Islands, and attract additional funding, particularly for projects that have a wider economic impact for Scotland.”



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