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Minister accused of 'humiliating u-turn'

Brown commits to HIE and unveils ‘strategic board’

Keith Brown
Keith Brown: boards remain (photo by Terry Murden – DB Media Services)

The Highlands and Islands Enterprise board and the boards of the other three agencies will remain in place, it was stated today.

Economy Secretary Keith Brown said there will be a new Strategic Board that will “reset the relationship enterprise and skills agencies have with businesses.”

Labour and Conservative spokesman described his decision not to scrap the boards as “a humiliating u-turn”.

The new strategic board will encourage greater collaboration and innovation between agencies, said Mr Brown. It will also help strengthen the support they give to people, businesses, training providers, universities and colleges.

Following a review, the names, functions and structures of the four agency boards will remain unchanged.

The new Strategic Board will have its own chairman and include the chairmen of other agencies, together with non-executive members from businesses, local government, skills and research and trade unions.

Mr Brown said: “Driving inclusive growth through increasing productivity has been the primary focus of our enterprise and skills review, as we believe a step change can deliver higher wages and skills – supporting our ambition for Scotland to rank among the top OECD countries for productivity, equality, wellbeing and sustainability.”

He added: “The extensive feedback we have received helped shape the review and how we will deliver an enterprise and skills support system that is greater than the sum of its parts. As the first step, our commitment to create a Strategic Board has been welcomed by agencies and experts.

“We have listened to the views of Parliament and those with an interest in our review, and can confirm that the Highlands and Islands Enterprise board and the boards of the other three agencies will remain. As I have previously promised, HIE will continue to be locally-based, managed and directed, and the new arrangements will protect and enhance their unique service.

“Far from diminishing the role of the agencies, I want to strengthen their capability and encourage greater collaboration. The Strategic Board will assist the work of the four agency boards.

“We will continue to listen to people’s views as we progress to the next stage of the review as we are committed to doing all we can to boost Scotland’s economy.”

However, Scottish Labour Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant said: “This is a humiliating u-turn by Keith Brown, and caps off a bad week for him after he had to apologise for the secret deal with a Chinese firm and the announcement of a further delay to the opening of the Queensferry Crossing. 

“It is welcome that the Nationalists have scrapped their plan to centralise control of Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The independence of the board should never have been put at risk in the first place.  

“Decisions about the Highlands and Islands economy are best taken locally, rather than by ministers sitting behind a desk in Edinburgh. We will watch very carefully to ensure that the Strategic Board does not encroach on the responsibilities of the Highlands and Islands board.”

Scottish Conservative shadow economy secretary Dean Lockhart said: “This is an embarrassing u-turn from the SNP Government and shows that they have finally caved after the sustained criticism these plans received from all sectors.

“The vote following the Scottish Conservative debate earlier this year proved that there was no political will for this move either, and it was clear it needed to be stopped.

“We need to see a step-change in the performance of the economy, but abolishing these boards would have only hindered our ability to deliver an economic strategy and to grow.

“What is totally unacceptable is the SNP’s attempts to bury this news on the last day of the parliamentary term.

“Placing it amongst several other important statements is a crude way of trying to hide this from the Scottish people, and it just shows the extent that the SNP is willing to go to in order to hide their incompetence.

“This latest u-turn from Keith Brown comes after a woeful week for the Cabinet Secretary.

“Earlier in the week he had to announce a second delay to the completion of the Queensferry Crossing, and this was followed by having to make a humiliating apology over last year’s potential investment by Chinese investors, which was dubbed a ‘Shambles’ in China.’”


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