HIE 'Cut off at knees' by SNP efforts

Last week, as parliament and media attention was focused on a crucial vote on the government's budget, Ministers grasped the opportunity to sneak out news about the future of Highlands & Islands Enterprise. The plan backfired when Ministers were rebuked by the Presiding Officer for leaking details to the press before informing parliament. Frankly, though, it was entirely in keeping with the disingenuous, underhand way the government has developed its plans to neuter HIE.

Predictably, SNP backbenchers lined up gleefully to welcome HIE Chairman, Lorne Crerar's recommendation that HIE's board should be retained, conveniently ignoring the fact that this board would still be answerable to a new, centralised 'super board', chaired by an SNP Minister.
This loss of its strategic decision making function is key and fundamentally undermines HIE's ability to perform its role. It leaves HIE acting as a mere 'delivery agency' for a centralised board in Glasgow or Edinburgh, rather than responding to the specific needs of businesses and communities in our region.
What a far cry from the vision of those who set up our local development agency over 50 years ago. Little wonder that former HIE chair, Prof Jim Hunter denounced the SNP's plans as "ministerial control freakery" and "centralism run riot". And this from an SNP member!
Rather than taking the chance to galvanise and re-energise HIE, SNP Ministers have opted instead to cut it off at the knees. Sadly, they have been aided and abetted in this by HIE's current chairman. Only he knows why.
And this centralisation is, of course, part of a piece with the SNP. Over the years, our region has seen the loss of control over police and fire services. Police counters and local courts have closed. NHS boards have been underfunded and local government budgets slashed. All the time, Ministers are said to know best.
SNP politicians may have convinced themselves of their own spin, but the truth is they have chosen to back their government rather than their constituents. To claim the board has been saved is not only to move the goalposts, but to swap them for jumpers and claim it is an improvement. When it comes to local elections, the public in the Highlands & Islands will not be fooled.
In December, Parliament voted to retain HIE's strategic decision making board. Rather than invent ever more elaborate 'fudges' to justify yet another power grab, SNP Ministers should now accept the will of parliament and of businesses and communities in our region, and dump these plans.

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