Review suggests HIE keep own board

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Highlands and Islands Enterprise supports businesses across north and west Scotland

Highlands and Islands Enterprise should have its own board, suggests phase two of a review of Scotland's enterprise and skills agencies.

The first phase published last year recommended that a new national board co-ordinate the activities of HIE, Scottish Enterprise and other bodies.

The potential winding up of HIE's own board has been the source of a political row.

But phase two recommends HIE and the others retain their independent boards.

A new national strategic board would oversee the organisations' activities, it has been suggested.

The newly-published report has been welcomed by Economy Secretary Keith Brown and Kate Forbes, SNP MSP Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch.

However, Shetland and Orkney Lib Dem MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur said "control from the centre" was still being proposed.

HIE supports businesses in Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles, Highlands, Argyll and Moray.

It began as the Highlands and Islands Development Board 50 years ago, becoming HIE in 1990.

In January, MSPs voted to demand the Scottish government allow HIE to retain its own board.

In his response, Mr Brown said HIE would "continue to be locally based, managed and directed" under his plans.

'Absolute control'

For phase two, a review of the governance of Scotland's enterprise and skills agencies was chaired by HIE's chairman Prof Lorne Crerar.

In the newly-published report, Prof Crerar has recommended the set up of a national strategic board and the retention of the individual boards.

Mr Brown said he welcomed Prof Crerar's "detailed report which sets out a number of options for the potential scope, structures and functions for a new statutory board for our enterprise and skills agencies".

The economy secretary said: "We thank Prof Crerar for taking the time to speak to each of the four agencies, their chairs and a number of experts, with these discussions forming the basis of his recommendations, we will now consider the detail and make a statement to parliament on our next steps in the next few weeks.

"We remain committed to this review and will continue to listen to the views of those with an interest.

"It is essential that we do not lose sight of our aim of giving our businesses and individuals the right access and support to national services which will help to boost Scotland's economy and deliver our ambition of Scotland ranking among the top quartile of OECD countries in terms of productivity, equality, wellbeing and sustainability."

In a joint statement, Lib Dems Mr Scott and Mr McArthur said: "This report confirms everything a centralising government wants.

"This means absolute control by ministers of Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

"Lorne Crerar should have simply done what he was asked and produced a justification for the HIE board abolition.

"His proposal is even worse. This is control from the centre. A delivery board that will do exactly what it is told by ministers."