Open letter warns of 'severe impact' on economy if arts cuts are imposed

More than 120 arts, heritage and business organisations have joined forces to warn the Scottish Government of the “severe impacts” if its culture budget is cut next week.

Ministers have been told key economic growth ambitions will be “critically undermined” if there are cuts imposed on a sector worth £4.6 billion a year and supporting 84,000 jobs.

Campaigners have also pointed out the £325 million currently spent on culture and tourism represents less than one per cent of the government’s total budget.

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The letter insists that funding may need to rise to maintain the “status quo” in the cultural sector due to a slump in National Lottery funding and cuts to local authority budgets.

The letter, addressed to Scottish finance minister Derek Mackay, states: “We believe that public investment in culture offers outstanding value for money.”

It has been coordinated by the charity Arts and Business Scotland, which has helped find funding for cultural groups and organisations for the last 31 years.

Chief executive David Watt, said it reflected concern about a “real risk” to future funding and the “devastating impact” this would have all across the country.

The National Theatre of Scotland, the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, Dundee Contemporary Arts and the Scottish Book Trust are among those protesting over the prospect of cuts.

Operators of the Traverse, Royal Lyceum, King’s and Festival theatres in Edinburgh are also backing the letter, along with the Citizens and Tron in Glasgow, and Pitlochry Festival Theatre.

The letter states: “We are writing to express our collective concern as to the severe impact of potential cuts to revenue funding to the cultural sector in the forthcoming 2018-19 Scottish budget.

“The significant added value culture brings to Scotland’s economy and society has been widely documented. Scotland’s creative industries are estimated to contribute £4.6 billion annually to the Scottish economy, supporting 84,000 jobs.

“Meanwhile, with tourism worth around £11 billion to the Scottish economy each year, a third of tourists visiting Scotland are inspired to do so by the country’s culture and heritage.

“At the same time, having a vibrant cultural sector offers important societal benefits. A 2013 study conducted by the Scottish Government shows clear and significant links between cultural participation and improved health and wellbeing – and there is also widespread evidence of the broader positive societal impact culture brings in areas including education, justice and community cohesion.

“Elsewhere, the latest Scottish Household Survey shows that, at a rate of 92 per cent, the Scottish population is more culturally engaged than ever before.

“Given the huge added value the cultural sector brings to Scotland’s economy, society and business community, we believe that public investment in culture offers outstanding value for money.

“In that context, we wish to register our strong concerns that any moves to reduce public funding to the arts and heritage sectors in 2018-19 would critically undermine the achievement of the Scottish Government’s overarching purpose and strategic objectives – and, beyond this, in the context of ongoing pressure on other sources of cultural funding, a modest increase in public funding for the sector would enable Scotland’s core cultural infrastructure to survive and thrive.”

Mr Watt added: “This letter demonstrates the strength of concern amongst our members that future funding for culture is at real risk as part of this year’s Scottish budget negotiations – and the devastating impact a cut in funding would have for arts and heritage organisations throughout the length and breadth of Scotland.

“Aside from this, I think we are able to make a compelling case that the cultural sector is actually already punching significantly above its weight when it comes to addressing a wide range of Scottish Government priorities.”