Thursday, November 04, 2010

'What to do with the warm corpse of Highlands and Islands Enterprise?'

The title of this post is stolen from the editorial of Am Paipear Beag (West Highland Free Press) of 29/10/2010. One person with an idea is author and former chairman of HIE, Jim Hunter. He would like to see its functions taken over and incorporated into regional government for the Highlands and Islands area. He is quoted in the Herald:
Professor Jim Hunter, who served six years as chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise(HIE), believes the new body could take responsibility for the emergency services, health and existing local authority duties.Similar bodies could be established in Borders and south-west Scotland, he said.’ More here.
Our existing government in Edinburgh is perhaps remote enough but much less so than London. One could be forgiven for suggesting however, that at times our local authority in Inverness can seem further remote than either London or Edinburgh and perhaps even Brussels? Would a seat of local government in the Highland Capital (I imagine it wouldn’t be sited in South Uist) be of any use to Nairn? Would it help in any way to allow our town to have more say in its own affairs? It’s hard to say really, unless we were to be given a town council to properly articulate the community’s feelings, then it is hard to predict what would happen but one might be inclined to expect more of the same.

Highland Council have their own ideas about what should be done with HIE, their position was detailed in a recent Press & Journal article:
'A report to Thursday’s meeting recommends the establishment of a new board for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, drawn from the seven constituent local authorities, with scope for membership from the business community.
It would operate in a similar way to the police and fire services, via joint boards of councilors. Responsibility for businesses, community development and local regeneration would be devolved to the local authorities, with the new board assuming responsibility for undertaking HIE’s current strategic functions.
The report states: “This would retain the distinctive approach to economic and social development created over the past 40 years in the Highlands and islands while improving local democratic accountability.” '

The phrase ‘improving local democratic accountability’ sounds rather hollow here in Nairn when you consider the gradual drip-drip of local authority functions that have disappeared to Inverness and furthermore, who knows what we will be left with when the Council finally goes ahead with its cuts. However, it is beyond the immediate Inveness area and the A96 ‘growth corridor’ (as outlined in the Development plan) that one must also look for views and thus to the WHFP. They contend that HIE ‘has invited its own destruction.’ They say in the guts of a hard-hitting editiorial:
‘Highlands and Islands Enterprise is not now in mortal danger because it is unelected, or because it has failed to operate across the whole of the Highlands and Islands. It is under threat precisely because it has continued to pump public money into parts of the Highlands that no longer need it.’
A view that perhaps might be echoed in Caithness and other areas of the Highlands? One wonders however how buoyant the Inverness, Nairn and Moray economies will look after the RAF bases are closed and the pay-offs begin in the public sector and whether we may suddenly be in a situation similar to that of other presently less economically fortunate parts of the Highlands.
The Free Press then calls for an organisation that would take in the Highlands and Islands less Inverness & Moray: 'The development job is done in Inverness. There is no point in pretending otherwise. For as long as we make that pretence, we damage the real and continuing case for a dedicated development agency elsewhere in the Highlands and Islands.’

Conflicting views then on whatever comes after HIE but as for what is best for Nairn and the County hinterland, just how do we make our views known and move forward? The view from the West then is that the development job is done in Inverness, but one look down the A96 from the Regal corner demonstrates that the development job has not been done yet in Nairn.

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