Media Release: HIE chief executive to take on green energy role

SANDY Cumming CBE, chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) for the past nine-and-a-half years, plans to leave the organisation next month and take on a new, national role.

Mr Cumming (57), is the Scottish Government’s choice to help spearhead the development of renewable offshore energy across the public sector in Scotland.

The new post will involve working closely with Jim Mather, Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism, and liaising between the Government and relevant public sector bodies – including local authorities, enterprise agencies and the Crown Estate – to ensure effective collaboration on a range of offshore green energy projects.

It is a one-year secondment, lasting until spring 2011. Following this, Mr Cumming plans to pursue other opportunities in the public and voluntary sectors.

The process of recruiting a new chief executive for Highlands and Islands Enterprise will begin immediately.

Born in Dingwall, Ross-shire, raised on a farm in Strathconon and schooled at Dingwall Academy, Sandy Cumming has worked for HIE and its predecessor body for almost all of his career to date.

He joined the Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB) in 1973, after graduating from Edinburgh University with a BSc Honours degree in Agricultural Economics.

During his time with HIE and the HIDB, Mr Cumming has held a variety of key posts, including head of Natural Resources, director of Growing Businesses, and five years in charge of the local enterprise company serving Ross and Cromarty in the 1990s.

Taking on the new Government role will resolve a potential conflict of interest for the chief executive, whose home neighbours Beechwood Farm, Inverness, a 215-acre site which HIE owns and plans to develop over several years as an education and business park.

Mr Cumming himself declared his interest as soon as HIE began exploring the development of the Inverness Campus project in 2008. Because of this, he has played no part in any discussion or decision regarding the project to date.

However, that could not be a permanent solution, because, as HIE’s statutory accountable officer, the chief executive is required to take a comprehensive overview of all of HIE’s operations.

Both HIE and the Scottish Government made strenuous attempts to identify a suitable governance solution, before concluding that Mr Cumming could not continue in his present post while the risk of a conflict of interest remained.

“Offshore renewable energy presents Scotland with one of its greatest ever economic opportunities and I am delighted at the prospect of playing a part in developing the sector over the next 12 months,” said Mr Cumming.

“The Highlands and Islands is a special place and it has been my great privilege to serve the area and its people for more than 35 years.

“I genuinely believe that being chief executive of Highlands and Islands Enterprise is one of the best jobs in Scotland.

“The organisation has achieved a massive amount since it was established, and it still has a great deal to contribute to the success of this region and of Scotland.

“Whoever takes over as my successor can be sure they are inheriting a great organisation with a dedicated and ambitious workforce.”

John Swinney MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, said:

“I want to put on record the thanks of the Scottish Government for the outstanding contribution Sandy Cumming has made to the economy of the Highlands and Islands over a substantial number of years.

“The proposal that will see Mr Cumming now spearheading the development of Scotland’s vast off-shore renewables potential will ensure that he continues to play a significant role in the economic development of the Highlands and Islands and indeed the whole of Scotland. In that respect, I welcome this move as a positive outcome for all concerned.

“Although I have no doubt he will be greatly missed at HIE, I look forward to Mr Cumming joining this exciting push to harness the vast potential economic and environmental benefits of clean, green energy.”

William Roe, chair of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, described Mr Cumming as ‘an exemplary leader’ who would be greatly missed at HIE.

“Sandy has devoted his working life to the advancement of the Highlands and Islands,” said Mr Roe.

“He joined HIE’s predecessor in the early 1970s as a young man determined to make a positive difference to the region where he was born and raised, and he has never lost sight of that purpose in his journey to the very top of HIE.

“As chief executive, he has proved himself time and again to be an exemplary leader who is universally liked as well as respected by all those who have worked with him. That’s a rare distinction indeed.

“The present circumstances which make it necessary for Sandy to stand down as HIE chief executive could not have been foreseen or prevented.

“It’s a testament to his abilities, as well as the regard in which he is held that he has been chosen for such an important new role on the national stage.

“Sandy leaves with the best wishes of all the staff and board members who have had the pleasure of working with him over the years.”

HIE’s present acting chief executive, Sandy Brady, will remain in that position until a permanent replacement is appointed.

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Contact: Caroline Rham
Phone: 01349 868932