MSPs reject Highlands and Islands Enterprise plan
Plans to merge enterprise boards potentially scuppered in Holyrood vote
Keith Brown - Scottish Parliament
Plans to merge the boards of all Scotland's enterprise quangos were rejected by MSPs in a Scottish Parliament vote last night amid accusations Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) would lose its local focus.
The Scottish Government has proposed to merge the boards of Scottish Enterprise, HIE, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council into one statutory body, to be chaired by Economy Secretary Keith Brown.
Opposition MSPs accused the SNP of centralisation, and defeated the minority government by a single vote.
The debate was called by Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron, who said: "Members should be in no doubt that the loss of the board will, in effect, mean the end of HIE as we know it."
Brown denied the proposal would abolish the agency, which serves the Highlands, Moray, Argyll and the islands.
"We needed clearer alignment of our services to deliver our national ambitions. That is why we will align those key agencies under a strategic Scotland-wide board and also protect local decision making, local management and local delivery," he said.
Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur called the plan an "unwarranted power grab" by an "arrogant" government.
"It is simply not credible to argue that a single, overarching superboard encompassing enterprise, skills and funding agencies for all Scotland will have the necessary laser-like focus on the needs of the Highlands and Islands," he said.
Brown's amendment was defeated by 64 votes to 63, although the vote is not binding as it is an opposition-led debate.
However speaking after the debate, Scottish Labour rural affairs and connectivity spokeswoman Rhoda Grant said the government should now respect the will of parliament and abandon its plans.
“This government is obsessed with moving power and services south, and repeatedly shows its contempt for the people of the Highlands and Islands," she said.
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