Highlands & Islands

Questions over Highlands and Islands Enterprise's future

Development agencies Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Scottish Enterprise could be merged, it has been suggested.

An Inverness-based economic consultant has been told the Scottish government is considering such a move, according to Labour MSP David Stewart.

Mr Stewart said he would oppose any move to wind up HIE.

The Scottish government announced in May that it would carry out a review of enterprise and skills support.

The review, carried out over the summer, included an "end-to-end review of the roles, responsibilities and relationships" of Scottish Enterprise, HIE, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council.

Its findings have yet to be released.

Ahead of the move, ministers said they wanted to ensure that the Scottish government and public agencies were "delivering the joined-up support that our young people, universities, colleges and businesses need to increase sustainable economic growth".

'Room for improvement'

Kate Forbes, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, said HIE has been "investing in and promoting the Highlands as a place to do business" for many years, but added that there was "always room for improvement".

Highlands and Islands MSP Mr Stewart has sought a meeting with Economy Secretary Keith Brown to confirm if a merger is being considered.

Mr Stewart said: "Obviously it is something that we have feared over many years as we've seen the agency shrink in size and lose its campaigning voice for the Highlands and Islands.

"With the departure of chief executive Alex Paterson and an interim chief executive appointed, there have been rumours that this could be the end for the agency in the region."

'Unique pressures'

Ms Forbes said: "I hope the review examines how we can share resources and best practice across the regions, so that the Highlands benefits from ideas, solutions and resources in other rural areas, like the Borders, as well as urban areas.

"Whatever the review concludes, I hope it recognises the unique pressures facing the Highlands."

A Scottish government spokesman said: "The focus of the Enterprise and Skills review has been on improving the outcomes of those who engage with our enterprise and skills agencies, and building on the successes and strong points of these agencies.

"This government remains focused on building an economy where everyone has a fair chance to contribute and share in the benefits of economic growth.

"Our planned £500m Scottish Growth Fund is designed to support business, the workforce and the economy to grow. We will set out our response to the review in due course."

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