Creative Scotland turns to ‘Plain English Campaign’

Joan McAlpine cited evidence from one complainant that the quango's application forms were 'not clearly written'. Picture: Joan McAlpine
Joan McAlpine cited evidence from one complainant that the quango's application forms were 'not clearly written'. Picture: Joan McAlpine
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Scotland’s troubled arts quango has called in the “Plain English Campaign” to help win around its critics.

Creative Scotland has called in the group, which combats “gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information”, after being forced to apologise for botching the handling of applications for funding.

Chief executive Janet Archer was forced to resign in July, just weeks after a Holyrood committee ruled the way funding decisions were handled fell “way below” the standard expected of a public body.

Dozens of artists and organisations had earlier lodged a dossier of damning evidence with the Scottish Parliament, which was described as “a catalogue of criticism from the creative sector”.

Creative Scotland has been under investigation by Holyrood’s culture committee in the wake of an outcry and some organisations had their funding cut completely despite the quango’s Scottish Government commitment increasing. Others only had their funding reinstated after mounting online campaigns and culture secretary Fiona Hyslop intervening on their behalf.

The cultural sector published an open letter to Ms Hyslop in February saying they were “deeply perturbed” over the way Creative Scotland had made its funding decisions, complaining “a lack of clarity in decision-making, inconsistencies across all art forms in the rationales given for support or denial of support, and poor level of communication, particularly with unsuccessful applicants, has resulted in deep misgivings amongst us”.

A 12-page letter sent to Ms Archer in June by Joan McAlpine, chair of the culture committee, said it had become clear Creative Scotland had been struggling to deliver a strategic approach to its functions in a way that was clear and accessible to staff and the sector.

She cited evidence from one complainant that “despite extensive and expensive consultation” the quango’s application forms were “not clearly written and full of jargon and bureaucratic language”.

MSPs were told: “This is an unnecessary barrier to those who are, for example, dyslexic or for whom English is not a first language. It’s mindnumbing for those for whom it is.”

Creative Scotland’s new chair Robert Wilson, who was appointed after the round of three-year funding decisions were taken, launched an internal organisational review and commissioned an independent review of the funding process before Ms Archer resigned in July. The results of both are yet to be published.

However, the Scottish Parliament has been told work was underway, with the Plain English campaign to ensure all its key documents were fully accredited in future.

A spokesman said: “We are committed to making the language we use as clear as possible. All our guidance and application forms, across all our routes to funding are developed and tested on an ongoing basis with people who work in the sectors we support. We always want to improve this area of our work and are currently discussing with the Plain English society how they can help us do that.”