Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has called for a revitalisation of the Highlands and Islands economy following the impact of Covid-19. Mr Carmichael highlighted the weaknesses of the current Highlands and Islands Enterprise as requiring new vision and purpose, with the force of government and the vision of business.
Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael said:
“It seems that the debate is passing on to the next phase, about how we reopen and re-grow our economy. That is difficult in every part of the country, but none more so than the Highlands and Islands. We need a return to having an economic development force within the highlands and islands with the same vision and purpose that the Highlands and Islands development board had when it was set up by the Wilson Government in 1965. It had access to Government and all the opportunities that could come from the force of the public sector, but added to that, it had the force, vision and experience of business. That was more or less what we got with its successor body, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, but the current Highlands and Islands Enterprise is a sorry shadow of what it used to be.
“That issue has been an increasing problem for businesses and economic growth in the Highlands and Islands for years now, and this is the moment when we have to say, “Enough is enough.” Within the Highlands and Islands, we need a significant body that has clout and access to Government and can bring the resource of the public sector, but spend it in the way that business and the private sector know is necessary. Without change of that sort, from here and from Edinburgh, we will miss the opportunity to regrow the Highlands economy in the way that we know is necessary.”
Speaking afterwards, Mr Carmichael said:
The Highlands and Islands Development Board was set up in the 1960s to tackle the problem of depopulation and poor economic growth. It was not just an economic development agency but also had a social and political purpose. The change into Highlands and Islands Enterprise then brought useful input from local businesspeople.
“The combination of political vision and the push of business with the pull of the public sector is what we need right now. The current Highlands and Islands Enterprise no longer is capable of meeting the challenges that we face post-Covid. Now is the time for a new HIDB to drive communications infrastructure and green growth in our local economies.”