£20m revamp for Scots cultural life

Key points

• Curtain falls on Scottish Arts Council as Executive announces overhaul

• New arts quango created but changes fall short of recommendations

• Executive to fund Scottish Opera and other projects directly

Key quote

"Today marks the start, not the end, of a new journey towards achieving our ambitious aspirations for Scotland's cultural life. Scottish ministers are now determined to continue that journey to reach a Scotland which values and celebrates its culture and its experience of culture" - Patricia Ferguson, culture minister

Story in full THE show was over for the controversial Scottish Arts Council yesterday as the quango was scrapped in an overhaul of cultural life which will see another 20 million a year ploughed into the arts.

Patricia Ferguson, the culture minister, pledged the extra money and unveiled plans to abolish the two major funding bodies, the Scottish Arts Council (SAC) and Scottish Screen.

They disappear to be replaced by a new quango, Creative Scotland, to develop an "escalator" for talent in the arts.

But the Scottish Executive is set to take direct control of funding for the national performing arts companies, including the troubled Scottish Opera and the new flagship National Theatre of Scotland.

Some of the extra 20 million will go to those companies, Ms Ferguson said.

There will be more funding for libraries, while many of the key recommendations made last year by the Cultural Commission have been ignored.

She embraced the idea of a new national box office for the arts, but the bureaucratic changes she proposed fell far short of the commission's ambitious blueprint.

It had called for an extra 100 million in funding and two new all-embracing national arts "companies".

However, the commission's report was widely criticised for its length and complexity and Ms Ferguson agreed it had had a "mixed press".

She insisted the 100 million figure was "largely symbolic".

Ms Ferguson told the Scottish Parliament that resources should not be wasted on unnecessary bureaucracy.

She said: "Today marks the start, not the end, of a new journey towards achieving our ambitious aspirations for Scotland's cultural life.

"Scottish ministers are now determined to continue that journey to reach a Scotland which values and celebrates its culture and its experience of culture.

"The commitment has been made. The ambition has been stated. The vision is now coming into focus."

Negotiations to form Creative Scotland, dubbed a "cultural development agency", will begin as early as next week, Ms Ferguson said, though final changes will await legislation in 2007.

The SAC has roots dating back more than half a century.

It was a sub-committee of the Arts Council of Great Britain, founded in 1947, until 1994, when the SAC was incorporated and funded by the then Scottish Office.

One question left hanging yesterday was how the arts council and its staff will handle negotiations over the coming months.

Relations between politicians and other UK arts councils have hit rock bottom recently after attempts to impose change from above, and similar moves by the Welsh Assembly have resulted in bitter public rows with the Arts Council of Wales.

Ms Ferguson said yesterday that "too often" the success of talented artists in Scotland had been "more the result of good luck than good planning".

What she wanted was an "escalator approach" to give artists a helping hand from childhood to careers.

But she insisted that was not a criticism of the now defunct arts council. "It is not a case of the arts council having failed," she said, but a need for new structures for post-devolution Scotland.

In a statement, an SAC spokesman said: "We are confident that the specialist knowledge and expertise of our staff will play a pivotal role in ensuring Creative Scotland is a dynamic organisation, fit for the 21st century.

"Our commitment and our profound knowledge of the national cultural landscape that has historically served Scotland so well remains a valuable resource."

But the spokesman noted the arts council supports more than 100 other arts organisations across Scotland and warned support for the national companies must not come at the expense of the "wider sector".

The Executive says it spends 187 million on culture a year, due to rise to 214 million in 2007-8.

Ms Ferguson said she had secured an extra 20 million a year from April 2007 onwards.

The arts council oversees a current budget of 75 million a year.

Funding for the five national companies, including Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and the National Theatre of Scotland, accounts for about 20 million.

They will now be funded directly by the Executive, and it is proposed that arts council officials currently overseeing them could transfer to the Executive.

The five companies released a joint statement saying they were looking forward to a "fruitful and creative partnership" with the Executive.

Creative Scotland will be a quango, not an agency, the Executive stressed yesterday, with its own board.

The national companies will also keep their own boards.

Ms Ferguson said yesterday that the "cultural rights" championed by both Jack McConnell, the First Minister, and the Cultural Commission would mostly be the province of Scottish local authorities. New legislation will require them to develop "cultural entitlements and cultural planning".

That could range from free access to a live performance, to the chance to take part in a community art project.

Graham Garvie, the spokesman on arts and leisure for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said: "With today's announcement, the minister has acknowledged that councils are prime movers on Scotland's cultural scene.

"We are delighted that she has provided the vision, leadership and direction to enable local authorities to deliver a radical, creative and inclusive cultural agenda for 21st-century Scotland."

The minister also said that several national collections bodies would be added to the National Galleries of Scotland, the National Museums of Scotland and the National Library of Scotland.

These will be the National Archives of Scotland, the Scottish Screen Archive and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

The changes at a glance

• Scotland's arts sector to receive an extra 20 million a year

• Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen to be scrapped and replaced by a new agency, Creative Scotland

• Scottish Opera and National Theatre of Scotland to receive direct government funding

• Key recommendations of Cultural Commission ignored. Minister insists money shouldn't be wasted on 'unnecessary bureaucracy'

• Local authorities to develop 'cultural entitlements' for public, such as free access to live performances

• Schools to place a greater emphasis on cultural education

• Local museums and galleries eligible for increased funding. More cash for public libraries