Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has secured backing for a motion on economic and community development at the Scottish Liberal Democrat Party Conference. Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart also spoke in favour.
The motion calls for the replacement of Highlands and Islands Enterprise with a revitalised development body, with local democratic accountability and a remit for the delivery of economic development, infrastructure construction and community empowerment.
It also calls for the creation of a new economic development agency for the North East of Scotland in this model, as well as for the Scottish Government to support regional and community decision-making at a local level and reverse its attempts to centralise economic and community development.
Speaking at conference, Alistair Carmichael MP, said:
“What is left as HIE today is a skeleton of what it used to be. A few years ago the SNP, having picked the flesh off its bones came back for the bones themselves. We saw them off then but, in truth, we were defending the memories of what we used to have rather than what remains today – a body shorn of power and influence. A body that is tasked with delivering decisions made in Edinburgh – giving business and communities in the Highlands not what they need but what ministers in Edinburgh are prepared to give us.
“I bow to no one in my admiration for the efforts of the few remaining staff in my communities who maintain the presence of Highlands and Islands Enterprise. They are good people who work hard and do their best, but everyone knows what more could be done if they were given the power and resource to do it.”
Beatrice Wishart MSP said:
“Scottish Liberal Democrats have always believed in the importance of local decision-making and accountability. Our proposals for a revitalised development body for the Highlands and Islands would enable real community empowerment for Shetlanders to lead on the big issues that matter to us.
“The Islands face challenges as we recover from the pandemic. Brexit is adding great uncertainty and we must to respond to the climate emergency and transition to a greener future. To help us do that we need a development agency that is firmly in local hands to boost local innovation and growth.”