John has welcomed an assurance from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the future of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), and called for the creation of a new agency to replicate HIE’s success in the South of Scotland.
HIE, which replaced the Highlands and Islands Development Board in 1991, differs from Scottish Enterprise in that it is charged with supporting community development, not just the commercial economy.
Fears for the future of HIE were raised this week by Highland economist Tony Mackay. After meeting with Scottish Government ministers, he wrote: “One of the ministers told me that the Government is considering merging Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise.”
Questioning Ms Sturgeon, John said:
“First Minister, you’ll be aware that Highlands and Islands Enterprise, like the Highlands and Islands Development Board before it, provides a valuable role in the Highlands and Islands. That’s because of its dual remit of not only economic but also community benefit.
“You’ll be aware of press speculation regarding its future. Can you give an assurance that these two important functions will continue to be discharged by HIE in the Highlands and Islands?”
The First Minister replied:
“Yes. HIE has done a fantastic job over the last fifty years. I can give the assurance to the Member that we will make sure it is in a position to continue to carry out those functions and provide the excellent services it does to the Highlands of Scotland.”
Speaking afterwards, John said:
“I am pleased that the First Minister has quashed talk of merging HIE with Scottish Enterprise. The Highlands and Islands faces unique challenges and opportunities, and needs its own development agency. More than that, it needs one with the big-picture outlook that is built in to HIE: supporting development of and for the whole community, not commerce alone.
“The First Minister recognises the hugely valuable role that HIE has played in the north of Scotland over the past 50 years, so I hope she will see the strong case for bringing that success to the south of Scotland too.
“The south of Scotland is, like the Highlands and Islands, a large, predominantly rural region – but it is also very different and faces very different issues. A new, dedicated agency for the region on the HIE model would enable local responses to the south’s own challenges while putting its communities at the heart of its economic development.”
As well as representing the Highlands and Islands region, John is the Scottish Greens’ national spokesperson on Rural and Island Communities.