Local governance and economic development : re-figuring state regulation in the Scottish Highlands
MacKinnon, Daniel Finlayson
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This thesis examines the politics of local, governance in the Scottish Highlands, taking the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) network - made up of a central core and 10 Local Enterprise Companies (LECs) - as its institutional focus. It synthesises regulationist approaches and neo-Marxist state theory to explain LECs as part of a broader process of re-regulation under consecutive Conservative governments. LECs are unelected, business-led agencies operating at the local level. The political discourse through which LECs were established and promoted created expectations of local autonomy among business representatives that clashed with the centralising tendencies of Thatcherism. The thesis examines how the resultant tension between local initiative and central control has been worked out within the HIE network. It relies on data collected from seventy semi-structured interviews with representatives of HIE, LECs, local authorities, businesses and community groups. The initial chapters introduce the research and consider key methodological issues, set out the theoretical framework, and review the practices of the Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB, HIE's successor). The thesis then explores the key tension between local initiative and central control, explaining how it has been mediated and resolved through routine institutional practices. It also examines HIE-LECs relations with other key agencies, notably local authorities, through selected examples of multi-agency partnerships and assesses LECs' local accountability and representativeness. Finally, a concluding chapter sets out the main findings and considers their implications. While key managerial 'technologies' such as targeting, audit and financial controls allow central government to monitor and steer the HIE network, the thesis argues that the authoritative resources of the HIE core - grounded in the combination of local knowledge and technical expertise inherited from the HIDB - enables it to adapt key aspects of the operating regime to its own purposes. Local autonomy is limited by the relative centralisation of the Network, and LECs operate in a system of structured flexibility in which their scope to adapt policy to local conditions is constrained by state rules and procedures. In emphasising that local autonomy is limited by hierarchical mechanisms of control, the thesis argues that local governance in the Scottish Highlands continues to be underpinned by government. It also points to the limits of the regulation approach and neo-Marxist state theory as theoretical perspectives, suggesting that neo-Foucauldian writings on govemmentality are useful in providing stronger analytical purchase on the specific mechanisms and procedures through which state regulation is practised.