HIE campaign


Stop HIE Going South

Rhoda Grant : Speech in the Scottish Parliament (18th. January 2017)

I welcome the debate and I support the motion.

The Highlands and Islands Development Board and Highlands and Islands Enterprise have, between them, more than 50 years of proven economic and social success.

Why would anyone want to dismantle that? Despite how the Scottish National Party Government wriggles and recants, that is exactly what it is trying to do.

John Swinney’s announcement of the end of the HIE board was met with anger and disbelief in the Highlands and Islands.

Kate Forbes: Will the member take an intervention?

Rhoda Grant : 

Let me make some progress.

I n response, Keith Brown tried to appease by saying that he expects there to be strong Highland representation on the new single board.

He also told me that there was no commitment to a single geographical headquarters for the new board.

Does that mean that the Government has not decided where the new board will be located or maybe that it will not have a base at all?

The more digging we do, the more it seems clear that the SNP is making it up as it goes along.

Its only aim is centralisation and a power grab that ignores the needs of the Highlands and Islands.

The SNP now wants to take away the very essence of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, whose roots are firmly based in the region, and to make it subject to a board that covers not only enterprise but education and skills.

Kate Forbes: Does the member accept that only phase 1 of the review has been published and that the reason why we do not have all the details is that we await phase 2? Does she also accept that she voted for the Government’s motion welcoming the publication of phase 1, which stated that a statutory board would be created?

Rhoda Grant  :

We know now that the board of HIE is going to be dismantled, which we did not know at the time of that vote.

The announcement of that proposal was sneaked out in answer to a different question. We did not have that information and we actually gave the Government the benefit of the doubt—we will maybe learn from that.

When the Highlands and Islands Development Board was founded in 1965, its main remit was to stem population decline from the north-west Highlands and the islands and at the same time enhance the way in which the economic and social needs of the whole area were met.

Most people, including the cabinet secretary, agree that it has been a success.

At the last count, the population had increased by 20 per cent.

However, that is not to say that the job is done.

Many parts of the region still face challenges that are as great as those in 1965 and we need to redouble our efforts to meet the demands of and challenges facing those communities.

That is where HIE’s social remit comes in and why we have lodged our amendment.

HIE has used its funding and knowledge to support businesses that would not have been supported elsewhere in order to strengthen communities and ensure that people have access to services.

It has supported businesses such as pubs and petrol pumps that would never be supported in other parts of Scotland.

Our amendment seeks to emphasise that point.

We have seen economic development over the past decades, but it has decreased over the past few years due to budget cuts.

Communities of course complain that they cannot get the help from HIE that they once did.

They want HIE to have its own distinct board and the ability that it once had to grow their local economies.

The Scottish Government’s approach should not be a surprise, as it has a track record on centralisation.

In the Highlands and Islands, we once had our own police force, governed by a joint board that was made up of locally elected representatives, but the Government centralised that; it did the same with the fire service in the Highlands and Islands, which is now centralised.

All that has had disastrous results for service delivery.

This time, it is HIE. What next?

The Scottish Government must recognise that it has no support for the plan.

The Government cannot tell us who supports scrapping the HIE board, but I can give a lengthy list of those who totally oppose it.

For example, Dr Stephen Clackson from Orkney Islands Council told me:

“Before long, with a single police force, single ambulance service, single fire and rescue service etc, this country will have come to resemble a large English county. The SNP will have transformed Scotland into Scotshire!”

How ironic that, as Donald Cameron said, the HIDB was set up by a UK Government in Westminster and is now being dismantled by a Scottish Government in Edinburgh.

That was not the aim of devolution.

Regardless of what the Scottish Government says, the move is taking powers from the Highlands and Islands and centralising them.

Power over how an organisation spends its budget is the crux of decision making, and the new board will retain power simply by being able to open and shut the funding tap.

We must make a stand to save not just the HIE board but the very essence of HIE, and to demand the re-empowering of an organisation that has made a real difference to the economy of the Highlands and Islands.

I make a direct plea to SNP MSPs for the Highlands and Islands: they might have been put up for election by the SNP, but they were elected by their constituents—do not let them down at decision time tonight.

I move amendment S5M-03438.1, to insert at end:

“, and recognises the impact that the Scottish Government’s plans for centralisation will have on HIE’s unique social remit.”

David Stewart : Speech in the Scottish Parliament (18th. January 2017)

“It has never been more important than today that all the country’s resources should be fully exploited, and the Highlands and Islands

“have much to contribute. This is not a case of giving to the Highlands. This is a case of giving the Highlands a chance to play their ... part in the future of Britain.”

—[Official Report, House of Commons, 16 March 1965; Vol 708, c 1086.]

Those are the words of the iconic Secretary of State for Scotland, Willie Ross, speaking in the House of Commons during the second reading of the Highland Development (Scotland) Bill, which set up the groundbreaking Highlands and Islands Development Board in 1965.

The HIDB was set up with operational freedom—unshackled by ministerial direction—and with combined economic and social development tools.

In 1991, HIE took the HIDB’s place, and both Conservative secretaries of state—Rifkind and Lang—kept those principles alive in the new body.

Professor Jim Hunter, an ex-chair of HIE and an SNP supporter, has been quoted already today. In December 2016, he said in The Press and Journal:

“The Scottish Government’s decision to deprive Highlands and Islands Enterprise of its own board is no bolt from the blue—it is the culmination of repeated moves by SNP Ministers to rein in and now end the independence of the north’s development agency.”

In my view, it is crucial that we keep the HIE board, fight creeping centralisation and give HIE the strategic direction to devise and formulate its own priority initiatives, keeping faith with the spirit of Willie Ross’s passionate address in the Commons in March 1965.

The big question today is why abolish HIE’s board. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Where is the stampede of local people and organisations building the barricades to demand change?

I ask the cabinet secretary to name them.

Hands up how many back-bench SNP members for the Highlands and Islands want this move? How will HIE’s unique social function be protected?

Where is the evidence of duplication? Who will employ the HIE staff?

Who will appoint the HIE chief executive—the HIE board or the superquango?

Will the changes require fresh legislation, which might well be defeated, or will the cabinet secretary sneak through a so-called Henry VIII order using powers in part 2 of the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010?

I looked at that procedure earlier.

Members will be aware that it goes back to the statute of proclamations in 1539, which gave Henry VIII the power to make statute by proclamation.

Clearly, the cabinet secretary has been taking some history lessons over the past few days. Who will chair the superboard?

Who will be the members?

I will be happy to supply a free map of the Highlands and Islands to successful applicants if required.

I thank the Scottish Conservatives for their positive initiative in securing this debate.

Those words are not often heard from this part of the chamber, which reinforces the point that cross-party consensus exists on the issue.

The SNP faces almost universal criticism in the Highlands and Islands for its centralisation agenda, with opposition from the Lib Dems, the Greens, the Tories, Labour and—we should not forget—Highland Council as well.

In the SNP’s ranks, it has caused discomfort on the back benches, and spies tell me that members of the SNP group at Westminster are muttering into their beer in the strangers bar because of the lack of consultation from SNP high command over the abolition of the board.

Tonight, there is a chance for democracy to strike back.

All that we need is the will to do and the soul to dare.