MSPs in the Western Isles and across the Highlands and Islands must all stand up for retention of the Highlands and Enterprise Board as a voice for the North of Scotland, says former Industry Minister Brian Wilson.
In articles for this month’s EVENTS newspaper in Stornoway, Mr Wilson says: “For more than half a century, politicians of all parties have supported the existence of a distinct economic development agency to tackle the challenges faced by Highlands and Islands communities.
“Progress made in that period has been attributable in no small measure to the strength and independence of HIE and, before it, the Highlands and Islands Development Board.
“Now the Scottish Government is planning to subsume the HIE board into an ‘overarching’ Scotland-wide organisation, the remit of which will also include not only Scottish Enterprise but also Skills Development Scotland, the Scottish Higher and Further Education Funding Councils and Scottish Development International.
“This is an incredible departure from previous recognition of regional and peripheral needs.
“But surely it is even more incredible that it has been voted for at Holyrood by representatives of the very places which have gained most in the past from the separate identity of HIE/HIDB and now stand to lose most from its subordination to a Scotland-wide agenda.
Mr Wilson points out: “The need for a separate economic development agency for the Highlands and Islands was recognised at least from the 1930s, when the Hilleary Report’s recommendation for its establishment was frustrated by the outbreak of war.
“Throughout the 1950s, the case was pursued by the Highland Panel which had only an advisory role.
“Finally, with the election of the Labour government in 1964, the dream became reality in fulfillment of a manifesto commitment.
“The Highlands and Islands Development Act created the HIDB with extensive powers and budget to transform the economic prospects of the region, and to stem depopulation.
“Critically, the HIDB was given a social remit as well as an economic one and the freedom to take risks with investment, particularly in parts of the region – such as the Western Isles – where there were relatively few prospects for creating employment and countering migration.”
Full articles here: http://www.welovestornoway.com/index.php/community-info/5884-hie-board-in-north-why-we-still-need-it