HIE is nothing short of vital for the Highlands and Islands. It is vital for the economy: by supporting new and existing businesses and social enterprises.
It is vital for our communities: by contributing towards job creation and helping development of community assets.
And it is vital for technology: by assisting the roll out of high-speed broadband and supporting development of better infrastructure.
However, there is one big reason why all of this tailored, local support is possible. It is because HIE has an independent board consisting of people from across the private, public and third sector who are dedicated to this area, and its needs. They are passionate about seeing community and business development in the Highlands and Islands, and securing economic growth.
Since HIE was created, it has had many successes: our region has 20% of Scotland’s enterprises despite only having 9% of Scotland’s population. This is a remarkable achievement, as is the fact that the declining population trend has been reversed, growing by 22% since 1965; more than double the national average.
How ironic that back in 1965 it was a UK Government in supposedly faraway Westminster which recognised the need for a specific Highlands and Islands agency yet in 2017, it is a Scottish Government in Edinburgh which wishes to scrap the board and centralise its activities.
We can’t let this trend continue. There has been widespread support for the retention of the HIE board, not least as a result of the P&J’s “Keep HIE local” campaign.
That’s why today, the Scottish Conservatives are leading a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the government’s proposal and hope that MSPs from across the political spectrum will join with us and vote in favour of retaining the board.
Too much is at stake and for people across our region, it’s time we made our voices heard.