Highland Councillors are being asked next week to consider potential future governance and operations for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, should the agency be disbanded following a review of enterprise networks in Scotland.
The Council would prefer the status quo with HIE retaining its current status and budget of £84 million. However, members are being advised to adopt a fall back position should the current review by the Scottish Government result in the creation of one enterprise agency for Scotland, with HIE merging with Scottish Enterprise.
The position agreed by the Council at its meeting on Thursday will be presented to the Scottish Parliament’s Economy Energy and Tourism Committee, who are conducting the review, at an evidence gathering session in Sabhal Mor Ostaig, Skye on Monday 1 November. Council Leader Michael Foxley and Planning Environment and Development Committee Chairman Ian Ross will be leading evidence for the Council at the hearing.
A report to be considered by the Council recommends the establishment of a new board for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, drawn from the seven constituent local authorities in the Highlands and Islands, with scope for membership from the business community. It would operate in a similar way to the management of the police and fire services, via joint boards of councillors.
Responsibility for client businesses, community development and local regeneration would be devolved to the local authorities, with the new board assuming responsibility for undertaking HIE’s current strategic functions.
The report states: “This would retain the distinctive approach to economic and social development developed over the past 40 years in the Highlands and Islands whilst improving local democratic accountability.”
It highlights that there is agreement across local authorities in the Highlands and Islands against any proposal for a single enterprise agency for Scotland. Instead, it is agreed that the economic challenges of the region would be best met by having a separate enterprise agency with local input to decision-making and a focus on what is best for the local/regional economy.
Councillor Ross said: "Over the past 40 years, HIE and its predecessor, Highlands and Islands Development Board, have served the Highlands very well in regenerating the economy. We have formed a strong partnership with HIE to develop services and infrastructure that reflect the needs of Highland businesses and create employment opportunities. Some of the recent changes to HIE have not been positive as the Government has asked them to change their focus.
“If further major change is coming, we need to be ready with a back up plan. A single enterprise agency for Scotland is not in our best interests. That is why we are opting for a joint board along similar lines to the Northern Joint Police Board and the Highland and Islands Fire Board, with far greater local democratic accountability.”