The best means of supporting businesses and strengthening communities across the highlands and islands have been debated at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism (EET) Committee on the Isle of Skye.
A wide range of witnesses, including Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the Highland Council, Inverness Chamber of Commerce and a number of Skye-based businesses, discussed the challenges for Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) in a time of increased economic austerity.
The EET Committee held a meeting at Sabhal Mor Ostaig (the National Centre for Gaelic language and culture) in Sleat on Monday as part of its inquiry into Scotland’s enterprise network.
One of the main themes of the meeting was worry over the possibility of HIE being merged with Scottish Enterprise (SE), leading to a lack of local accountability and reduced understanding of specific business and social needs in the area.
Councillor Michael Foxley, Leader of the Administration at the Highland Council was one of the witnesses who told the Committee of great concerns about the possibility of HIE becoming part of Scottish Enterprise. Councillor Angus Campbell, Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, also warned against such a move.
Iain Smith MSP, Convener of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, said:
“Our meeting in Skye provided us with the ideal opportunity to hear about the specific needs of businesses in more remote and fragile parts of the country.
“This valuable evidence will be used to help compile our report next year which will help form a blueprint for promoting economic growth across Scotland, from urban centres to rural areas, such as Skye.”
Local businesses and organisations, including Jansvans, Skyeskyns and AROS, talked of their experience of dealing with Scotland’s enterprise network, particularly HIE. They discussed the impact of radical changes introduced in 2007 which included the transfer of the Business Gateway service to local authorities and the establishment of Skills Development Scotland.
Key points from the evidence session include:
- Worries that a significant cut in HIE’s budget is leading to a reduction in capacity, expertise and local knowledge;
- Increased focused on account managed businesses by HIE means that many smaller firms do not know where to turn for advice;
- The need for the highlands and islands to benefit from growth in renewable energy;
- The need for HIE to continue to play a key role in strengthening communities;
- A lack of start-up capital available for businesses in the area;
- Skills Development Scotland not having a high profile across the region.
On Tuesday the Committee met members of the Sleat Community Trust to visit Ardvasar filling station and Post Office, which are run by the Trust. They also visited Rag Tag ‘n’ Textile in Balmacara.
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