Boyle revealed as central in formulating Scottish Opera 'Doomsday scenario'

JAMES BOYLE, the former chairman of the Scottish Arts Council, was central to the decision to recommend to ministers the "Doomsday scenario" for Scottish Opera, sources said last night.

Mr Boyle, in an interview with The Scotsman earlier this week, had attributed the decision-making on Scottish Opera to civil servants who work as officers for the Scottish Arts Council (SAC).

But last night a council source said: "He [Boyle] was closely involved in preparing our comments on the plan."

The Scotsman reported yesterday that in August 2003, the SAC’s music director, Nod Knowles, made the case that the Opera, as it existed, be closed down and replaced by a small core team of administrators commissioning opera and "music theatre" for Scotland.

The document was never official policy, the SAC said.

But in April 2004, the Opera’s troubles reached a critical impasse.

Scottish Opera’s board, finally bowing to demands to repay the Scottish Executive 4.5 million in advance funding, produced two plans for paying the sum back. The plans were passed to the SAC for comment. It recommended adopting the more radical plan that would have effectively decimated the company, making all but a handful of staff at Scottish Opera redundant.

The SAC confirmed in a statement yesterday that the Scottish Executive, faced with "a very bleak future" for the opera, then changed its mind on repayments and began negotiating directly with the opera’s board.

"The Executive got frightened by the level of redundancies," sources said. The opera’s chairman, Duncan McGhie, was called in for direct talks with the Executive. The upshot was the plan that emerged last week, with 88 redundancies and the opera ceasing productions for a year, beginning this June.

The SAC insisted yesterday that in an ideal world the opera would get 10 million a year, but, it said, from 1999 to 2003 the its budget had gone from 6 million to more than 8 million.

"We are not in a position to give Scottish Opera a larger share of our existing budget without seriously damaging other art forms in Scotland," the SAC said.

"The 2m uplift in funds for Scottish Opera between 1999 and 2003 is more than our budget for all forms of literature in Scotland this year."

Union representatives for Scottish Opera’s chorus said yesterday they had been formally notified that the chorus’s 35 members are among the 88 redundancies at the opera, nearly half its 210 workforce.

The company is seeking the job cuts by 31st August. Lorne Boswell, of the actors’ union Equity said: "Our response is that we are going to oppose all compulsory redundancies."

Under current plans, the opera’s 53-strong orchestra will hold on to their jobs, but Ian Smith, the district organiser of the Musicians’ Union, said yesterday his members had fears for their own future, particularly in June, when Scottish Opera stops producing mainscale opera for nine months.

"The fact that they are not under the immediate axe is not giving them a lot of pleasure. The orchestra’s ability to compete with the three other orchestras operating in Scotland hinged on producing opera with the chorus" he said. "If you take away the chorus that’s not possible."

A spokesman for the culture minister, Frank McAveety, insisted yesterday that the deal had been done on Scottish Opera. "There has been a package that has been agreed with the Scottish Opera board. The number-one objective is to ensure a long-term future for opera in Scotland."

"The deal has been done. This is the board’s plan. They agreed this. They put this forward. Let’s try and move forward on this."

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