Make-up of controversial new HIE oversight board revealed

Picture by SANDY Steven Heddle, Convener of Orkney Islands Council outside the council's headquarters in Kirkwall, Orkney

An Orkney councillor and the head of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) have been appointed to a controversial new board that will oversee several agencies.

Professor Lorne Crerar, the HIE chairman, will sit on the Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board, alongside former Orkney Islands Council leader Steven Heddle.

The 16-strong panel also features former Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive Karen Betts, Aberdeen-based PCL Group chief executive Jeanette Forbes, and former Wood Group boss and current Scottish Enterprise chairman Bob Keiller.

The Scottish Government said yesterday that the board would be tasked with creating a “fresh strategy for enterprise and skills support” and will first meet on December 13.

The creation of the board previously sparked concern in the north amid fears it would effectively end the independence of HIE.

Initial plans to axe HIE’s dedicated board and replace it with the new panel overseeing all of Scotland’s skills and enterprise agencies provoked a furious response, with opposition parties uniting against the move and backing the Press and Journal’s “Keep HIE Local” campaign.

Economy Secretary Keith Brown eventually performed a U-turn in March and agreed to keep HIE’s board, while still pressing ahead with the new national strategic panel.

Yesterday, Mr Brown said: “The members of the board have been chosen specifically for their expertise, both in their industrial and geographical areas.”

Nora Senior, UK chairwoman of communications giant Weber Shandwick, is to be the board’s chairwoman, and said yesterday: “The calibre of members we have invited on to the board is hugely impressive.”

Liam McArthur, the Liberal Democrat MSP for Orkney who was a vocal critic of the original plans for the shake-up, said: “Ministers should not forget that businesses and communities across the region fought hard to retain a laser-like focus on their needs.

“It would therefore be unacceptable for the Scottish Government to use the new Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board as an arm to deliver their ‘we know best approach’ to decision making.

“The focus of enterprise and skills policy must be to work effectively with HIE to help deliver the improvements in support that businesses right across the Highlands and islands need.”

The other panel members are Liz Cameron from the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, Mike Cantlay from the Scottish Funding Council, Sara Carter from Strathclyde University, Audrey Cumberford from West College Scotland, Russel Griggs from the South of Scotland Economic Partnership, Poonam Gupta of the PG Paper Company, John McClelland from Skills Development Scotland, Gerry McCusker from BIMA Scotland, Scott McLarty of Spirit Aerospace and Grahame Smith of the STUC.