Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has today warned Scottish Ministers that they cannot “dodge the will of parliament” over the future of Highland and Islands Enterprise.
In a report published last week, current HIE Chairman, Prof Lorne Crerar, recommended keeping the HIE board but turning it into a “Delivery Board”. The report also proposed that the new overarching, centralised board should have “a Ministerial Chair” to give it “clear authority”.
These proposals have been dismissed by one respect, Inverness-based economist as a ‘whitewash’, while former HIE Chair and SNP member, Prof Jim Hunter remained unimpressed. Having previously described the Scottish Government’s plans to abolish HIE’s board as ‘centralism run riot’ and ‘ministerial control freakery’, Prof Hunter confirmed this week that his concerns have been “in no way set to rest” by the latest plans.
Mr McArthur raised the issue at Topical Questions in Holyrood today. Orkney’s MSP urged the Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Keith Brown MSP to respect the vote and will of parliament by retaining the current “strategic, operational and budgetary” decision-making powers of HIE’s board.
Keith Brown MSP refused to give that assurance.
Following the exchanges, Mr McArthur said:
“No matter how much the Cabinet Secretary ducks and weaves, he cannot dodge the will of parliament or public opinion by stripping HIE of its strategic decision-making powers.
“Those who genuinely want to see HIE operate more effectively, to meet the specific needs of businesses and communities in the Highlands & Islands, want to see it have more autonomy and less micro-management by Ministers. Sadly the SNP are proposing the complete opposite
“No-one disputes that HIE can be improved or made more effective. Achieving that will indeed require good cooperation with other agencies. It will not be achieved, however, by making HIE a mere delivery arm of a centralised ‘super board’ under ministerial control.
“Under these plans, the HIE chair and board would owe their loyalty to Edinburgh and the minister. The needs of the Highlands & Islands would inevitably be a secondary consideration. No amount of SNP spin can mask that uncomfortable and unacceptable truth”.