The controversial chair of Creative Scotland’s board, who has been at the helm since its inception, stands down less than four years after he was appointed.
He has agreed to stay on until the end of this year following talks with the Scottish Government, which was said to be keen for him to remain in the role.
The surprise move, announced at the Scottish Parliament at a reception for MSPs, follows a prolonged period of upheaval within the organisation, and widespread concerns over how it was being run.
Sir Sandy, who remains a director of Royal Bank of Scotland, had withstood previous calls to quit amid protests about a senior figure from the country’s damaged financial sector heading Scotland’s flagship arts body.
There will now be calls for the post to go to someone with a solid track record in the cultural sector.
It is understood Sir Sandy –knighted in 2009, the year he left Standard Life – took the decision to stand down following criticism and suspicion over his professional background and its influence over Creative Scotland. His tenure saw the body accused of mismanagement, ignoring artists’ views, using too much “business-speak” and being dogged by a “corporate” ethos.
Ministers are expected to begin the recruitment process for his replacement in the summer, to ensure a new chair is in place by Christmas.
Although Sir Sandy is said to be highly regarded by the quango’s board and had a close working relationship with culture secretary Fiona Hyslop, his re-appointment would have dismayed some in the arts sector.
There has been long-standing anger about his insistence that artists and organisations funded by Creative Scotland, which has a budget of more than £1 million, needed to demonstrate “a return on investment”.
Sir Sandy has led the overhaul of Creative Scotland since its first chief executive, Andrew Dixon, was forced to quit, as well as the recruitment of his replacement, Janet Archer, last summer.
In a statement, Sir Sandy yesterday said: “I’d like to thank the Scottish Government and, in particular, Fiona Hyslop, for her support and patience while Creative Scotland has developed. I have greatly valued her vision, insight and friendship over the four years I have been in post.
“I feel confident Creative Scotland is now well established and in a good place in terms of leadership, direction, and budgets.”
Ms Hyslop said: “Sir Sandy Crombie has played a key role in establishing Scotland’s national arts body, leading it through periods of change and transition and supporting the organisation to overcome the challenges of its first years of operation. More recently, Sir Sandy has steered the organisation through an important period of reflection and reorganisation and supported the development of its forthcoming ten-year plan.”
Playwright David Greig, one of the leading figures in the campaign for change within Creative Scotland, said: “Sir Sandy was part of the team that saw Creative Scotland’s troubles develop but, to his credit, once he understood the depth of the problems he took responsibility for tackling them.”
Actor Tam Dean Burn, one of Creative Scotland’s most outspoken critics, said: “Hopefully his leaving draws a line under Creative Scotland’s disastrous beginning and gives Janet Archer the opportunity for a fresh start.”