Highlands & Islands

Keith Brown statement expected on HIE board's future

Isle of Skye Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption HIE supports businesses in the Highlands and Islands, Western Isles, Northern Isles, Argyll and Moray

Economy Secretary Keith Brown is expected to make a statement on the future of the board of Highlands and Islands Enterprise later on Thursday.

HIE, along with other enterprise and skills agencies, has been the subject of a review.

The process sparked a political row with opposition parties concerned HIE's board could lose its independence or be wound up altogether.

HIE supports businesses in the islands, Highlands, Argyll and Moray.

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

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

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.

What is HIE?

  • It began as the Highlands and Islands Development Board 50 years ago, becoming HIE in 1990
  • The agency is the Scottish government's economic and community development agency for the north and west of Scotland
  • Its purpose is to "generate sustainable economic growth"
  • The agency's headquarters are in Inverness, but it has staff in offices across its region
  • The assets it owns include the CairnGorm Mountain snowsports centre and its funicular railway

A report was recently published on the scope, structures and functions for a new board.

Prof Lorne Crerar's publication recommended HIE and the others retain their independent boards.

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

Ahead of Mr Brown's statement in the Scottish Parliament, former Labour MSP Maureen Macmillan has present a petition to Holyrood's public petitions committee.

The petition asks for the Scottish government "to reverse its decision to move power from the region to a centralised body".

Ahead of the statement, Mr Brown said the proposals were part of a wide-ranging programme to improve services for businesses and individuals.

He said: "It is essential that we do not lose sight of our aim of enhancing our enterprise and skills services to boost Scotland's economy, which will help to deliver our ambition of ranking among the top quartile of OECD countries in terms of productivity, equality, wellbeing and sustainability.

"In order to achieve this, our agencies must align behind a common purpose and be driven by strong leadership.

"Far from diminishing the role of agencies, the review will strengthen their capability and grow their capacity to jointly step-up the services and support they provide to businesses and individuals across Scotland."

'Booming Inverness'

HIE's work in recent years has included providing funding to upgrade a fabrication yard at Arnish, near Stornoway on Lewis, and helping to secure the future of jobs at a call centre in Forres.

It is involved in the roll-out of superfast broadband to rural areas and initiatives to encourage young people to live and work in the Highlands and Islands.

HIE has also flagged up the need to better tackle gender imbalance in the workplace.

In 2015, it officially opened its Inverness Campus, a large area of land at Beechwood in Inverness which HIE has made available for businesses and research organisations.

Inverness College UHI built a new college on part of the campus.

However, during the early stages of planning the campus, HIE was criticised by Western Isles Council - Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

It said the agency should be investing in fragile areas of the region and not "booming" Inverness.

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