Today the Scottish Parliament will debate a motion from the Scottish Conservatives regarding the future of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
The Scottish Government as part of the ongoing enterprise and skills review, and would see a new Scotland wide-statutory body co-ordinating the activities of Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council. This would mean the dedicated local board of HIE would be lost and replaced by a national board overseeing several organisations.
John and the Scottish Green Party are fully signed up to the Press and Journal’s ‘Keep HIE Local’ campaign. John has been working and campaigning to keep HIE local for as long as he has been an MSP, highlighting especially HIE’s role in community development and not solely commerce. It is this function that John is most worried will be lost.
In September of 2016 following rumours of the merging of HIE and Scottish Enterprise John challenged the First Minister to ensure this special aspect of HIE would be retained and HIE be able to continue in its role.
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.”
However the proposal of the Scottish Government to abolish the HIE board and have a single national board covering four bodies simply does not hold to the spirit of the question John posed in September, nor its answer.
Unfortunately due to ill-health John will not be able to take part in today’s debate on HIE, his colleague Andy Wightman MSP will be speaking on behalf of the Scottish Greens. We will be supporting the motion to oppose the Scottish Government’s plans to abolish the board of Highlands and Islands Enterprise.