Brian Ferguson: Cultural austerity already baring its teeth

The Deputy First Minister John Swinney. Picture: Neil Hanna
The Deputy First Minister John Swinney. Picture: Neil Hanna
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SCOTLAND’S cultural landscape appears to be a rather bleaker place than it was a year ago.

After years of standstill or even improved budgets, a new era of arts austerity was ushered in by John Swinney last month.

The Deputy First Minister’s budget did not spell good news for any of Scotland’s cultural institutions, organisations or artists.

A real-terms reduction of almost £20 million in the overall culture budget has left organisations like the National Galleries of Scotland, National Museums Scotland, the National Theatre of Scotland and Scottish Opera having to find savings of at least three per cent this year.

Creative Scotland has had 3.6 per cent of its own budget slashed – after making a “strong case” for an increase in its resources to help accommodation soaring demands for funding.

Instead, many new applicants for funding are expected to be left empty-handed, particularly as Creative Scotland’s board has decided to protect existing funding agreements for those on long-term agreements, a difficult decision, but probably the correct one on balance.

The national collections organisations and national performance companies will already have been preparing themselves for cuts – and may be somewhat relieved the outlook is not even grimmer.

But the reduced pot of funding for Creative Scotland to draw from, a bitter blow for an organisation which had campaigned publicly for arts funding to be protected, is likely to have long-term ramifications across the country.

By cutting arts funding across the board, the Scottish Government has sent a message to local authorities who may be considering the same move. And councils may simply not be in a position to limit the level of cuts to between three and four per cent.

The government already has substantial commitments to the ten new science, technology and design galleries at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, as well as the new V&A museum gradually taking shape on Dundee’s waterfront.

But looking further ahead, will the funding be there for other game-changing projects?

One ominous sign is that Creative Scotland has already pulled the shutters down on the funding of any new major capital projects for the foreseeable future.

Of course, there is one major capital project that is yet to get off the starting blocks and is set to become a substantial hangover from 2015 for both the government and Creative Scotland.

Many of those involved in the Scottish film industry have grown increasingly weary at the dismal efforts to get a permanent studio off the ground-particularly since a “delivery group” was created by culture secretary Fiona Hyslop nearly three years ago.

Early last year it appeared as if there was the prospect of two or three new facilities being delivered, with rival proposals emerging in Glasgow, Midlothian, Dundee and Cumbernauld, where the hit TV show Outlander has been based in a converted warehouse.

By the end of 2015 supporters of a studio were once again reduced to rallying support for online petitions demanding action from the government over the embarrassing impasse.

But until someone can provide the leadership to find a way through the current morass of funding problems, planning red tape and state aid restrictions, the lack of a proper studio in Scotland is likely to be a blight on the entire cultural scene.