Tuesday 31 August 1999
[THE CONVENER opened the meeting at
(Hugh Henry): Welcome. I have had a number of requests from
members of other committees to attend this meeting for the discussion on
the special programme for the Highlands and Islands. Those members are
Lewis Macdonald, Rhoda Grant, George Lyon and Fergus Ewing. I am agreeable
to their participation in the meeting and in any discussion; they will
not have a vote, should a vote be required.
Structural Funds (Highlands and Islands)
The Convener: The first document
before us is the special programme for the Highlands and Islands for 2000
to 2006. As you see, it is a consultative draft plan; the Rural Affairs
Committee will also consider it and there will be a separate document on
some of the issues in its remit. I know that there is interest from members
of that committee and I welcome them here today. Stephen, are there any
introductory remarks that you wish to make?
Stephen Imrie (Committee Clerk):
I have been advised by the Scottish Executive that, as the paper is a draft
plan, a more formal and complete consultation document will be coming to
the committee at a later date. This document has been sent to us for our
initial thoughts. The second, more formal document will be not a draft
but the actual plan. I have been advised also by officials from the rural
affairs department that the agriculture and fisheries components that should
be in this document are, as the convener said, part of a separate consultation
exercise. They are writing to you to explain what stage that is at.
MacDonald (Lothians) (SNP): As, later in this meeting, we will be discussing
the dates on which we need to meet to complete the regional map and so
on, it is surely quite important to know when the Executive will have the
final plan and not just the draft.
Stephen Imrie: It is not for me
to comment but, in terms of scheduling business, it would help to know
the end date. We are taking consultation on this document now, as we have
to reply by 13 September. I am not yet aware of the final date for the
more formal consultation, but it would help in scheduling business if I
We should write to the Executive.
I have been asked by Maureen Macmillan
if I will take an intervention because she is leaving to go to the Justice
and Home Affairs Committee.
Maureen Macmillan (Highlands and Islands)
(Lab): I begin with some general remarks about the draft plan. I hope
that everybody appreciates the size of the Highlands and Islandsit is
as big as Belgium, something that is often said but really must be appreciated.
It is not a homogeneous regionwe need only think of the tremendous contrast
between the Inverness and inner Moray firth area and the north and west
of the region. The economic base is narrow and even in Easter Ross and
in the Inverness area there are long-term unemployment and social problems
more often associated with urban deprivation. The other areas, in the north
and west, suffer from underemployment and depopulation caused by their
remoteness; their economies are usually based on primary products with
little value added and on unpredictable and cyclical industries such as
oil rig fabrication and tourism.
The Highlands and Islands have tremendous
potential, howeverperhaps more so than any other area in Europe. We have
a storehouse of raw materials to which we need to add value; we have excellent
engineering skills, particularly in Caithness; we have enormous tourism
potential; and we are in the forefront of communications technology. We
must invest in the next technological evolution.
I am disappointed in this document because
I do not think that it focuses on the next step. The special funding is
much more than we would have had as the usual transitional funding following
objective 1 funding, but we must analyse what was achieved in the objective
1 programme and build on it; the document does not do that sufficiently.
We must prioritise, think strategically and justify our choices.
As has been said, we must take account
of other funds such as those in the rural development programme, which
have not yet been announced. We need joined-up thinking. For example, development
cannot happen without proper infrastructure. A new pier at Mallaig was
built with objective 1 money but we still have a single-track road leading
to it. How can we extract the timber crop that is due to come to maturity
in the next 20 years if the bridges are on the point of collapse?
We must give priority to infrastructure
that will facilitate economic growth, including information and communications
technology infrastructure. We must also give priority to the most fragile
areas. This is the last chance of large scale funding that could make a
real and lasting difference. I suggest
||that it is used
to establish a venture capital fund that could then sustain a rolling programme
We must get it right this time. We cannot
fritter the money away or spread the jam too thinly; we must make the effects
of funding permanent. We must make sure that what we do is properly monitored
and I suggest that elected representatives, and not only officials, have
an input into that.
Ewing (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): How are we going to approach this
matterbit by bit, subject by subject, or by that kind of general statement?
The Convener: I am in the hands
of the committee. Shall we go through the document section by section?
Dr Ewing: It think that would be
useful because there are points in every section as well as general issues.
It would be easier to discuss things if we knew where we were.
(Cunninghame North) (Lab): That is an important point but there are
clear omissions in the draft planmost noticeably of a financial tablewhich
mean that our consideration will have to be generally based. If the financial
implications are not defined, the specifics are of little value in developing
an understanding of the potential impact on the communities that we are
My view is that we should concentrate on
the second part of the strategic aim in the document. Of course our objective
is to increase the prosperity of the Highlands and Islands generally through
sustainable economic development, but the second part of the strategic
aimthe reduction of social and economic disparities within the region,
to which Maureen referredis equally important. At this stage, we need
to base our comments more generally.
The Convener: This is our first
discussion; we will, at a later date, consider some of the detail that,
as has been said, has been omitted from this document. As Margo indicated,
we need to know our timetable. I propose that we take general points from
members at this stage.
Ms MacDonald: This is a general
point about the management of information. We should determine priorities,
because if the committee has a view on the priorities we can indicate to
the Executive a spending pattern rather than tell it exactly where to spend
the money. I think that that was implicit in what Maureen was saying. If
what Allan outlined is the numero uno objectiveI am being EuropeanI will
go along with it.
The Convener: There were at least
three languages in that sentence.
Nae problem. That was Glaswegian.
The Convener: A number of broad
objectives have been articulated. Allan spoke about giving the reduction
of social and economic disparity equal importance with increasing the prosperity
of the Highlands and Islands. Maureen made some general suggestions and
some specific ones, for example monitoring the input from elected representatives
and not just from officials. A number of points were made well. I propose
to continue the discussion in that vein. If members have points to make
on particular sections, they should make it known.
Dr Sylvia Jackson (Stirling) (Lab):
On a point of information, you said that the fisheries and agriculture
issues are being examined elsewhere. We gave the comments from our last
meeting to the Rural Affairs Committee. Can the committee clerk go over
again how the full proposal will come together?
Stephen Imrie: It is my understanding
that we will receive a document from the Executive containing the agriculture,
fish and financial material that Mr Wilson mentioned. If that document
follows the same process as the document that is before us, which I expect
it shall, either Mr Henry or I will receive the document to circulate to
all committee members and to copy to other subject committeessuch as the
Rural Affairs Committee or the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committeefor
their considered opinion.
Dr Jackson: The reason I ask the
question is that it follows on from Maureen's point about trying to see
the whole picture, in terms of those areas that need an on-going appraisal
of what has happened and those that need continuing funding to reap benefits.
I agree with Margo's point about the need for a realistic time scale to
view the whole picture and to examine the issue again.
The Convener: I will ensure that
the committee clerk and I speak to other conveners to bring some of those
points together. We will be able to give you a better idea of how quickly
we can do that once we know the answer to Margo's question about timetables.
You are correct that we need to know certain information so that we can
make progress on the matters before us.
Ms Irene Oldfather (Cunninghame South)
(Lab): The plan talks throughout about building on the good work of
the previous programme. That is important, but we have not examined the
previous plan, which may contain some omissions. We must ensure that there
is a geographic and equitable distribution of funds with regard to the
outlined priorities. That will be difficult to achieve without the financial
perspective that we spoke about, but at some early stage we must gain an
||idea of the financial
allocation to the priority subject areas and to the geographical areas.
We must build on the work that has been done but also redress any imbalances
in what happened.
The Convener: There are a number
of ways in which we could do that. The first is to circulate the whole
of the previous plan. The second is to produce a synopsis of the key points
that have been raised. The third is, in addition to the second point, to
invite someone from the Executive to talk to us about the matter. What
would be the preference?
Ms MacDonald: A synopsis taken in
conjunction with the some of the first charts in the reportthose on population
changes, for examplewould be sufficient. We would hardly need anything
else. If we examine the demographics, we begin to see an indication of
where we want to channel funds. I agree with Irene that the new structure
arrangement is another country, but we must concentrate on the future.
We have it here in front of us.
The Convener: I will ask for a synopsis
to be circulated to the committee.
What will be the time scale for receiving the document on agriculture,
fishing, aquaculture and forestry?
Stephen Imrie: I am not aware of
what the time scale will be.
Dr Ewing: Does that mean that we
cannot make any comment on agriculture and fishing with regard to the documentation
that we have?
Stephen Imrie: I understand that
separate material will arrive.
We currently have a crisis in agriculture, a crisis in fishing, a crisis
in aquaculture and a crisis in forestry relating to the amount of mature
timber. The Highlands also faces a general crisis above all the others
in transport and the cost of fuel. If we do not get that right, frankly,
these are just nice words under various headings. The problems with transport
and fuel affect infrastructure, entrepreneurs and tourism, which is also
facing a crisis. Transport problems should be a priority. The Mallaig road
has been mentioned; Mallaig is a place of thriving new industry but the
road is as bad as ever. It is not the only road of its kind but what is
sad is that it serves a lot of growing businesses. Those are the crises
that we will have to deal with. These are nice documents with nice graphs
but we seem to be no nearer to solving the problems.
At the previous meeting, I asked one of
the officials a question to which I did not receive an
||answer. I may ask
it when Mr McConnell comes, although I may have to go before that. My first
question is what sum the Highlands and Islands is gettingit has been described
as £210 million and £300 million. Secondly, how much extra
money was secured as transitional aid? I would have thought that that was
a simple question, but I have never been able to get an answer to it.
The Convener: If you wish to pursue
that matter you will have to use other avenues. Jack McConnell is coming
here today specifically to discuss objective 2.
Dr Ewing: He is coming at 3.30 pm?
The Convener: Yes, but the discussion
will not venture into the allocation of funds for the Highlands and Islands
because that is a separate matter. The Rural Affairs Committee is well
placed to examine some of your other points about the specific problems
facing different sectors of industry. Its role is to take the lead on those
matters. We have been asked to make general comments on the consultative
draft plan. When we have received more details and the sections that have
not been included, we can examine the overall analysis of the plan, but
it would not be proper for us to stray into some of the areas that the
Rural Affairs Committee will be examiningthat would be duplication.
Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab): The plan lacks strategic thinking
and, as parts of it are missing, I do not see how we can consider it. Some
of the missing partsfor example those dealing with agriculture and fisheriesalso
have an impact on infrastructure. Until we get the whole plan we cannot
examine it as an overall strategy. The plan lacks the joined-up thinking
that Maureen spoke about. There is crossover between different sections
and we should ask for consideration of that to be given more prominence.
George Lyon (Argyll and Bute) (LD):
The section of the document dealing with the impact of the previous
"In order to establish the final impact
of the Programme, however, there will need to be a detailed formal evaluation
Is that evaluation in progress? It would
give us an insight into whether the previous plan delivered what we would
view as a success in meeting the targets that were setthey appear to have
been metbut we must strip out a lot of other factors that may also have
influenced the economic growth of the area, such as the growth of the economy
as a whole.
We heard about the problems facing various
sectors. What impact did they have on objective 1 investment in the Highlands
and Islands? To ensure that this time we spend the money correctly, a proper
evaluation is crucial, so that we
||can be sure that
the money that was invested last time delivered the significant benefits
that seem to be shown in some of the document's tables. That information
would allow us to make some kind of value judgment about the spending of
objective 1 money in the Highlands and Islands in the past six years.
Dennis Canavan (Falkirk West): It
is important to base whatever conclusions we reach on information that
is as current as possible. The document contains much valuable information.
Table 5 on page 14 alarmingly reveals the decline in certain sectors of
employment in the Highlands and Islands. Employment in energy and water
services is down 21.1 per cent and down 20.4 per cent in manufacturing.
Employment in transport and communications is down by 16.8 per cent.
Those figures are for the period 1991-96.
I wonder whether the clerk or the Executive could be asked to give us more
current statistics on employment trends and other subjects mentioned in
the document. If we are to make a critical analysis or come to any conclusions
and make recommendations based on the document, it would help if our information
was more current than that which the European Commission and the Council
of Ministers had at their disposal when this document was drawn up.
The Convener: We can certainly write
to the Executive and ask for that information.
Ben Wallace (North-East Scotland) (Con):
I want to go back to the point that Dr Ewing and Maureen raised. Chapter
8 of the document is important; it indicates the priorities of the Executive
and where it is looking to channel its money. There is scope for rebuilding
infrastructure and, although there is no mention of measures on high fuel
prices, the document talks about assistance for improving roads with European
regional development funding.
The documentparticularly on issues such
as competitiveness and the funding of enterprisedoes not mention the length
of time for which funding would be available. I am keen to see more mention
of whether money is for core funding. One often finds that many small groups
in the Highlands and Islands and in Aberdeenshire are desperate for core
funding over a period of time. Tourist boards are crying out for more than
just an annual budget. That is not mentioned. The document states that
they will get money, but does not state whether the establishment of long-term
planning is a priority.
On Dennis's point, I am also worried about
the assisted areas map. It is drawn up according to information on council
wards from 1991. I know that that is the last available census information,
but I am concerned that, in going into such detail
||on council wards
for assisted areas, we are dealing with information that is eight years
The Convener: Your point about the
need for core funding over a period of time is slightly different from
Maureen's, but we may have to make some decisions about where the emphasis
should be placed. If we have limited funds, do we put the money into core
grant funding or do we start to look at venture capital as Maureen has
suggested? I do not know how much flexibility there would be to do both
and I do not know whether we should try today to form a view on the idea
of venture capital or wait for more information. I understand that you
are saying that, beyond the six-year or seven-year period, money would
continue to be circulated to get some longer-term benefit. We should, as
a committee, form a view on that; I do not want to lose sight of that point.
Allan Wilson: My point is supplementary
to what Dennis said about the table on page 14. Irrespective of the currency
of particular figuresalthough that is importantthe preceding paragraph
refers to the importance of construction and transport in the economy of
the area. However, the sectoral overview of the current position of the
main economic sectors in the Highlands and Islands makes no reference to
transport or construction. That seems to be an omission; we should ask
the Rural Affairs Committee to look at that. I want a sectoral overview
of transport and construction to be incorporated into the final report.
It is also important to incorporate sectors such as retailing and perhaps
self-employment into the final report and I would like reference to that
to be made to the Rural Affairs Committee or to the Executive.
Cathy Jamieson (Carrick, Cumnock and
Doon Valley) (Lab): I just wanted to make a couple of points about
references in the document to the social economy. The voluntary sector
and the wider social economy are clearly identified as having particular
value in terms of community development and so on.
Ben and Maureen have said that if the social
economy isas the document outlinesa key component of the overall economy,
it is important that funding for the voluntary sector and community businesses
and organisations is not short term. I want more information about how
that funding will be sustained The document mentions that it should be
sustained over a period of time, butthis links into Maureen's pointI
would like more commitment to establishing how that might be done.
The Convener: We can see from table
17 that nearly 9,000 people are employed in the social economy. Many of
the employers will be in small communities and their relative impact on
will be very significant. I share Cathy's view. How do we sustain the funding?
Dr Ewing: The document contains
some useful information on small businesses. Page 28 illustrates the area's
dependence on small businesses and shows how many of those businesses are
really small. Employers of one to 10 employees make up by far the greatest
In my years in Europe, the issue of small
employers fell into a kind of vacuum because the really small businesseswhich
are the lifeline of the Highlands and Islandsare not so common in Europe.
The good funding schemes that were made in Europe were designed for employers
of 100 and more. We managed to get that figure down to 50 employees and
more but, in the Highlands, that would be quite a big business.
I wonder whether we could focus on the
need of really small businesses for access to the schemes that are availablethe
European Investment Bank had some attractive schemes. Such businesses could
not access the schemes because of the cut-off lines. If those small companies
had access to the sort of funding that is available to larger employers,
even more businesses would be set up. It is in the nature of the Highlands
and Islands to have many small businesses and many of them have traded
very successfullythe impact of having 10 employees in an area of low population
can be very significant.
Ms MacDonald: That is an important
point. I agree with what Cathy said about the voluntary sectorwhich we
should call the third sector. It provides employment and tries to keep
people in some of the areas that are losing their population. The demographics
showMaureen will know this better than I dothat some areas are struggling
to retain a skills base that will give any hope for employment in manufacturing
or in anything other than third sector employment.
What Winnie says is important. Can we,
through this committee, tweak the rules so that we reduce the number that
must be employed by a business before it can tap into the investment fund?
George Lyon: I would like to highlight
communications, which brings us back to infrastructure. We know about some
of the physical problemsrelating to piers, roads and ferry services, for
exampleand about the necessity for targeting specific areas of need. Highlands
and Islands Enterprise and British Telecom invested substantially in improving
the communications infrastructure over the last period of the plan. Already
they are starting to lag too far behindin terms of bandwidths and so onto
attract the inward investment in telecommunications that is vital to many
||remote areas of
A lesson that is always learnt in setting
up businesses in the Highlands and Islands is that the distance from markets
is one of the great barriers and one that is always difficult to overcome.
If a business's product can go down the telephone line, that barrier vanishes.
There is the potential to attract industries that are based on telecommunications.
However, it should be taken into consideration
over the next six years that, if the infrastructure is not kept up to date,
the Highlands and Islands will start to lose ground again. The existing
good network needs continually to be upgraded because the technology is
Lewis Macdonald (Aberdeen Central) (Lab):
The Rural Affairs Committee has not yet considered this document, although
it asked Rhoda and me to attend this meeting. The Rural Affairs Committee
has a broad rural development remit. It is interesting for us to see what
there is in this document that may be applicable to other rural areas of
Scotland. I know that there are members on this committee who will take
the same view.
One of the useful things in this document
is the stress that it put on the distinction in the Highlands and Islands
between those areas that are doing reasonably well in Scottish terms and
those that are on the edge and need extra assistance.
This document contains good background
information, and very good evidence of the difficulties facing particular
rural areas that are still suffering large-scale depopulation and so on.
I am not so sure that the document contains the strategic pointers that
we require to address those difficulties. This committee should do anything
it can to encourage more attention to the strategy for the more remote
and less populous areas that is needed to correct that imbalance.
David Mundell (South of Scotland) (Con):
I agree with that point. I raised that general point at our previous
meeting. One of the slight difficulties that there has been with the separation
of Highlands and Islands Enterprise from Scottish Enterprise is that a
lot of very good work under the previous programme has not always been
promulgated to rural parts of Scotland that are within the Scottish Enterprise
network. In considering the implementation of objective 2 funding for the
other parts of Scotland, we have to build on the experience of the Highlands.
Ms MacDonald: I refer to pages 28
and 29. My point is about business closures and the inability to meet the
targets that were identified under the structural funds and other Government
||I want to know
more about this. Why is there such a high rate of business closure in comparison
to the Scottish average? Are the rates of business closure and small business
closure in the Highlands and Islands very different from those in other
rural areas in Scotland? Why does there not appear to have been such a
dramatic contraction in that sort of business in the islands? How important
is it that petrol prices are so high in the mainland areas that show a
higher rate of business closure? I would like to have a bit more detail;
I believe the figures but I want to understand the reasons behind them.
The Convener: If we were to consider
those reasons, we would need to contrast the figures for business closure
with those for new business formation in the same period. Although the
rate of business closure per 1,000 is 3.8, the rate of business formation
for 1998 is 4.3 per 1,000. Ms Macdonald mentioned the islands; some communities,
such as the Western Isles, have a relatively low rate of business closure
but have an average rate of new business formation compared to the rest
of the Highlands and Islands. The Highlands and Islands do better than
the Scottish average in the creation of new businesses. There is maybe
something to be explored, but if we do so, we must consider the positive
as well as the negative aspects.
Ms MacDonald: Returning to what
Cathy and Winnie were talking about, we need to know the size of the enterprises
and whether they are self-employed or in the third sector if we are to
direct funds and prioritise. I was not involved in a knocking exercise,
Hugh, I was just trying to find out.
The Convener: No, but the message
according to these statistics could be that the Highlands and Islands has
been more successful than the rest of Scotland in creating and developing
new businesses. We must find out what has been going on. The key for the
European Committee is to find out what influence European funding had on
that process, what influence such funding had on assisting the creation
of new businesses, and howby shifting in the way that Winnie is suggesting,
and targeting smaller businessesit could have helped some of those businesses
to stay in existence which otherwise would have gone out of business.
Ms MacDonald: That should be set
against the bigger background of the changing population pattern. I suspect
that, if we examined it more closely, we would find that where there have
been closures people have moved from rural areas to areas adjacent to towns.
I do not know the answers, Maureen, I am just trying to make sense of it.
Lewis Macdonald: All that I can
||response to that,
is that the areas that appear to have the highest rates of business closure
are Inverness, Lochaber and Orkney, areas which by many other criteria
would be the most economically successful parts of the region.
Maureen Macmillan: I think that
is generally because of the type of activity in those areas. In other areas
the economy is fairly static.
The Convener: There are two slants
on the matter. The first is this: has European funding been of assistance
in developing and sustaining businesses in the Highlands and Islands? The
second is this: could some of the businesses that went out of business
have been helped to continue had European funding been available, taking
into account the point that was made earlier?
George Lyon: I would like to elaborate
on Margo's question. I live in an island community, and I know that many
island communitiescertainly in Argyllshire and further northare dominated
by small one-man businesses. That is just the nature of the beast. One
of the challenges in trying to develop projects in areas such as that in
which I liveif any project is going aheadis to find a firm big enough
to take those projects on. That is one of the barriers that sometimes prevent
firms from benefiting from some of the infrastructure projects that go
ahead: there are no firms with big enough critical mass to take on that
type of project on their own. In Bute and Argyllshire that type of problem
has been experienced quite often. Mainland firms come to those areas to
take on the bigger projects. That is an issue that concerns the use of
the investment money and how it benefits the local community.
In terms of start-up rates and failures,
a lot of businesses stay for a year or 18 months, then suddenly go. Those
tend to be one-man businesses that do all the small jobs that are required
around the community. During my lifetime that has been the situation in
many of the island communities. They tend to be dominated by small businesses
that are out to earn only enough money for their own livelihood; there
are very few big businesses that can take on construction projects of the
type which sometimes come as a result of grant moneys and infrastructure
There is a considerable difference between
the gross domestic product of some less well-off areas in the Highlands
and Islands and that of places such as Inverness. This time, funding needs
to be targeted geographically. I come from an area where the GDP per head
stands at 70 per cent of the Scottish average. We are the second poorest
area in Scotland; only Skye and Lochalsh has a lower GDP per head. There
is a feeling that the Inverness area benefited substantially from the previous
investment programme. Depopulation is
||an issue in areas
out on the edge, such as the one in which I live, because of the lack of
economic activity there. Geographical targeting should underpin the setting
of priorities; we should start with the areas that need help most and set
up strategies for them. That is how the plan should be delivered.
The Convener: Is that a general
Ms Oldfather: That is partly what
I was saying earlier. We need to examine how we can redress some of the
historic imbalances and problems that were associated with previous programmes.
Table 35 on page 66 of the draft plan begins to address some of those problems
by focusing on a much lower level. Much of the information and analysis
presented in the plan is at the level of large geographical areas of the
Highlands and Islands, but this table targets much better the smaller areas
where action needs to be concentrated. To that extent, it represents a
step forward. However, we will be working in something of a vacuum until
figures are attached to the plan and it is put in the wider strategic context.
Dr Winnie Ewing: Last time the problem
in many areas was that projects were not brought forward. Will we now look
at who is responsible for doing that? Is it the local enterprise companies,
is it a crowd of people with good ideas who happen to live in an area that
needs funding, or is there an overall plan? We must decide, as that was
one of the difficulties. I received complaints from people in Caithness
who claimed that they did not get a fair share. That was probably true,
but the reason for that was that no one came forward with projects. Who
is to do the homework for projects? That is the question. From the beginning,
Europe made it plain that it would not do the homework, but that people
on the ground and the committees that they set up would have to do it.
I was told that one reason for the disparity was that people on the ground
did not come forward with projects. If we want to reduce disparities, we
need to consider who should do what.
The Convener: That touches on a
point that David made about a different area and a different programme.
The remit of this committee is not to analyse the economy of the Highlands
and Islandsthat is for another committeebut to consider how European
funding and assistance can help that economy. We have to ensure that we
concentrate on that. Dr Ewing's point is very pertinentthere is no point
in people getting funding if they are not able to take advantage of it.
If we are concerned that people are not being assisted to submit projects,
we should comment on that. We need to ask whether that is the case and,
if so, why. We must also identify the people who can move things forward.
Ms MacDonald: Convener, how would
Nobody is likely to put up their hand and say that they screwed up and
did not provide assistance. From personal experience, Maureen, Winnie,
George and other folk sitting around this table must be in a position to
comment on whether people in their areas have found the system for accessing
The Convener: Certainly people can
be asked to provide anecdotal evidence, but there should also be statistical
evidence available, not only from the Scottish Executive but from other
quarters. If the statistics show that fewer projects have been submitted
in one area than in others, we will want to know why. By all means, let
us take anecdotal evidence, but we also need hard evidence. We can ask
the Scottish Executive to obtain that from Highlands and Islands Enterprise,
local authorities and others.
Ben Wallace: That ties into the
bigger picture to which David and I alluded. In Aberdeenshire, there is
very often a feeling about the enterprise companies and the need for feedback
from them and scrutiny of what they have been doing. We would see that
as a system set up by another part of the Executive to scrutinise the value
for money of the enterprise companies and to see how they would work for
the Highlands and Islands. It is perhaps not our position as the European
committee to back the enterprise scheme, but I would have thought that
our role is to prioritise that money and to look at the way in which the
schemes are fundedby venture capital, for example.
Maureen Macmillan: I agree with
David Mundell. I do not want there to be a dogfight between the various
enterprise companies. That would be a disaster. We must have a view of
the Highlands and Islands as a whole, and what will be good for it, including
the peripheral areas. We must not have a competition which results in people
feeling that they have been hard done by.
George Lyon: I have been involved
in this process before, because I was chairman of one of the working groups
in Argyllshire that was involved in drawing up the bids for the first plan.
The enterprise companies have a role, but so does the local council. It
is about partnershipthey have to get together to ensure that they identify
the key priorities for their area. An important layer below that is the
enterprise company working groups. They are local groups that represent
the community, and they have an important role to play in identifying projects
that they believe should be submitted. The voluntary sector is also important.
Where I come from many of the voluntary organisations have already put
forward schemes, whether they are environmental
just good ideas for projects, which are feeding into the system. The way
in which it is done is clearly identified: up through the enterprise network
and the council working side by side. One of the big dangers is that if
the enterprise company and the council do not work in partnership, two
different sets of priorities are identified. There is nothing like a civil
servant for exploiting two different sets of prioritiesnobody gets anything.
The onus is on us to ensure that we get partnership between the enterprise
companies and the councils, and that the voluntary organisations come forward
with some good ideas.
The Convener: That is how we would
expect the process to work. Questions were asked earlier onis it working,
are people getting the help that they need, and if not, what should be
happeningand I think that we can legitimately explore that. If there is
a gap, not just in the plan, but in the processand this goes back to something
that David Mundell mentioned at a previous meetingthen we should be commenting
on that process.
Allan Wilson: I agree. It is very
important that local authorities and local enterprise companies work together
to promote the strategic objectives of the plan. Even where they are working
together, however, there are still areas where the level of preparedness
of different communities varies within the local authority area. Our role
should be to encourage those communities with the lowest level of preparedness
to make themselves available so that they can take advantage of the strategic
aim of redistributing money within the overall area of the Highlands and
Dr Sylvia Jackson: We talked about
the detailed analysis that we think needs to be undertaken, and Margo MacDonald
made a point about the various businesses that ceased trading. We will
need to look at that analysis in terms of the time scale that we have for
examining this draft and for the report. It will be important to build
in what is possible. I would also like to support David Mundell's point.
We must not lose the importance of the end of this process, and of the
basic principles that we can draw from it and apply usefully, if not totally,
to other rural areas.
The Convener: What I propose to
dobearing in mind that there is a time problem and that we are unsure
of the timetableis produce a holding document that reflects some of the
views that have been expressed. There is a general degree of consensus.
We may wish to revisit issues such as whether we should set up a venture
capital fund or how we approach core funding, as those issues are worthy
of further comment, and at least we have flagged them up. The document
should be circulated to the committee and considered further at the next
meeting, if the committee