HIE U-turn welcomed in Moray – but questions remain

A SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT decision to guarantee retention of the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Board has received a cautious welcome.

A statement from the cabinet secretary for the economy, Keith Brown, appeared to remove doubts over the future of HIE – although MSP’s who opposed the idea that management of the board should be merged into a single national body.

Moray-based regional MSP Douglas Ross said that the government had been “forced to listen” before finally taking a U-turn on the issue.

In the Scottish Parliament debate he said: “I know local communities will be disappointed that SNP members have only now found their voice when SNP ministers announced this change. There was a strong cross-party consensus on this issue.

“HIE is based in the Highlands, for the Highlands and to my knowledge there is not one example of centralisation leading to better decision making.”

Earlier in the day the Moray-based MSP had supported former MSP Maureen Macmillan in the Scottish Parliament’s public petitions committee, calling for the Scottish Government to withdraw its proposals to merge Highlands and Islands Enterprise into a national body.

He agreed that small rural communities rely on the expertise of a body like HIE which is able to act for them, identifying opportunities to prosper, which a centralised structure would not do.

Mr Ross added: “HIE has a big role to play, particularly in Moray where it has done a lot of good, for example at the Forres Enterprise Park and what they have done with the Moray Economic Partnership to bring new business in. This wouldn’t have been achieved without their support.”

The MSP has called for more clarification on Mr Brown’s announcement: “While the Cabinet Secretary has said the boards including that of HIE will remain; will they also retain all their existing powers?

“We need reassurances that decisions based in Moray and across the Highlands and Islands by the board of HIE won’t be overturned by the new strategic board, sadly the Scottish Government did not provide these assurances.”

Mr Brown insisted last night that the powers of the HIE Board were not being changed, with future strategy decision being set by the Board: “HIEs Board now have to regard the need to align and collaborate with the strategic board.  We are not changing the powers of the HIE board – they will have the same powers the day after the review that they had the day before.”