The Scottish Government is being urged to reverse planned cuts to the Highlands and Islands 

Shadow Finance Secretary, Donald Cameron, has asked for plans to be changed in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

In an exchange of letters with HIE chief executive Carrie Buxton, it was revealed that HIE proposes to balance its books by slashing the financial support it gives to business across the region. During the last financial quarter alone (Oct-Dec 2019) HIE provided financial awards to nearly 100 businesses and organisations in the region.

Mr Cameron, a Highlands and Islands MSP, said: “The Covid 19 emergency will require a profound rethink of many decisions, including budgetary decisions, that were made before the implications of the pandemic became clear.

“Clearly, It would be folly to slash support for businesses at a time when they are facing unprecedented challenges and wondering what the future may hold for them and their employees.

“The business community in the Highlands and Islands is characterised by small enterprises which simply lack the liquidity to sustain themselves for a prolonged period without income.

“They will naturally look towards Highlands and Islands Enterprise for support and advice, which it is uniquely placed to provide, because of its understanding of the distinctive nature of our economy and the enterprises which provide its backbone.

“I will be speaking to ministers, as well as HIE, to urge that this is looked at as urgently as possible so as to reassure everyone affected.”

David Stewart MSP has also asked the Scottish Government if it will reverse the 5% budget cut to HIE to support businesses and economic recovery following the crisis.  “The effects of the Coronavirus shutdown on businesses – including restaurants, shops and arts organisations – is going to be huge. We welcome the support that the UK and Scottish Governments has announced, but it may not be enough. Businesses must be reassured they will not come out of this crisis saddled with debt.

“The cuts being passed down to HIE for the coming financial year were always short-sighted, however, the impact that these cuts are going to have now due to the additional pressures being put on businesses across the region by the negative economic impact of Covid-19 bring this into even sharper relief.

“HIE play an essential role in strengthening local communities across the Highlands and Islands, which is one of Scotland’s most economically fragile areas. It is vital that the Scottish Government reverse the cuts and show a commitment to supporting businesses and economic recovery in the region once we are through this crisis.”