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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 September 2007, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Major enterprise reforms outlined
Scottish Enterprise building
Glasgow-based Scottish Enterprise will be reformed, MSPs heard
Scotland's 21 local enterprise networks will be scrapped as part of reforms to the main economic development agencies.

Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise will instead oversee a series of six regional operations, the government has announced.

However, plans to set up regional advisory boards were criticised by the Liberal Democrats, who warned of more bureaucracy.

Local councils will also play a greater role in economic development.

Finance Secretary John Swinney said the reforms will re-energise the enterprise networks and help meet the SNP administration's goal of boosting economic growth.

At least this government has had the guts to try and sort out Scottish Enterprise - the only enterprising thing the last government did was lose the election
Derek Brownlee
Tory finance spokesman

"We have come to the view that although the current local structure of local enterprise companies and local economic forums brings together a great deal of business engagement, these bodies represent too fragmented a structure," he said.

Scottish Enterprise, which welcomed the announcement, will oversee regional operations in Grampian, Tayside, East Central Scotland, South of Scotland and West Central Scotland.

Highlands and Islands will come under a single region, while the tourism body VisitScotland will have to tailor its operation round the new set-up.

Existing local offices, Mr Swinney said, will stay - but with staff located in more places around Scotland, rather than at headquarters.

Ministers will also sit on a forum with senior figures from the enterprise agencies and VisitScotland.

Enterprising work

Mr Swinney said that, to retain expertise, the agencies will set up business-led, regional advisory boards, sparking claims that this goes against the SNP's drive to cut bureaucracy.

The Liberal Democrats' Tavish Scott, a former finance minister, claimed the government had proposed to clutter, rather than clear the economic landscape.

He said: "Instead of 21 local bodies the government is creating at least 15 new ones and giving 32 local councils a role. This is the wrong decision for Scotland's economy."

Labour enterprise spokesman Iain Gray accused the minister of not going as far as the SNP's manifesto commitments on merging local enterprise bodies.

And he asked: "Does he really consider a single meeting of 100 stakeholders a complete, rounded and comprehensive consultation on such an important issue?"

We have been presented with an excellent opportunity to re-energise our organisation
Jack Perry
Scottish Enterprise chief

Tory finance spokesman Derek Brownlee welcomed the announcement, although he questioned how much money would be saved.

He said: "At least this government has had the guts to try and sort out Scottish Enterprise - the only enterprising thing the last government did was lose the election."

Mr Swinney also announced that Scotland's new skills body - resulting from the announced merger between Careers Scotland and learndirect Scotland - will take over the skills and training role held by the enterprise networks.

Scottish Enterprise chief executive Jack Perry said he aimed to have a plan for the new structure in place by the end of 2007.

"We have been presented with an excellent opportunity to re-energise our organisation, build on our strengths and we face the future with confidence," he said.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise chief executive Sandy Cumming said: "John Swinney's announcement recognises the importance of HIE's experience and commitment to the special challenges of this dispersed region."

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