Culture Secretary tells Creative Scotland to sort out criticisms

SCOTLAND’S culture secretary has demanded her flagship arts quango sort out mounting criticisms of the way it is being run - the day after its chief executive vowed he would not be stepping down.

SCOTLAND’S culture secretary has demanded her flagship arts quango sort out mounting criticisms of the way it is being run - the day after its chief executive vowed he would not be stepping down.

Fiona Hyslop, who has faced mounting criticism over her lack of action over the crisis engulfing Creative Scotland, insisted she was taking the criticisms levelled at it “very seriously.”

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She insisted it was already taking action in response to her request last month for its board, led by former Standard Life chief executive Sir Sandy Crombie, to address concerns about the way funding decisions were taken and levels of transparency.

But Ms Hyslop insisted the Scottish Government could not “interfere” with artistic decisions taken by the body, which has an annual budget of more than £83 million.

Her latest statement, several weeks after the quango’s chief executive Andrew Dixon appeared before MSPs to respond to criticisms, has been sparked by the signing of a damning letter of protest about Creative Scotland by 100 of Scotland’s leading artists.

Mr Dixon has pledged to remain in the job but admitted ­mistakes had been made since Creative Scotland was set up two years ago, saying that the “pace of change” had been too swift and that those in charge had failed to get their message across.

But he fiercely denied claims that his organisation was not listening to artists, pointing out that he and Sir Sandy were meeting a number of arts organisations when they were passed the letter of protest on Monday.

Creative Scotland was condemned for “ill-conceived decision-making, unclear language, and a lack of empathy and regard for Scottish culture” in a dramatic move by leading Scottish artists.

Sir Sandy and Mr Dixon have now offered to meet those behind the letter, including ­the ­national poet, Liz ­Lochhead, author Ian Rankin, artist Karla Black, playwright David Greig, actor Tam Dean Burn and film-maker Andrea Gibb.

Mr Dixon, former head of the north-east of England’s arts body, said: “We are already ­having discussions, we are in ­listening mode and I am travelling the length and breadth of the country speaking to artists. This is only the start and we know we need to listen more.

“I made a big commitment moving up here, I am very committed to Creative Scotland, and to delivering a first-class cultural infrastructure that the whole country can enjoy.”

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop was criticised by a predecessor, Patricia Ferguson, who accused her of standing by as artists and companies expressed growing frustration with the running of Creative Scotland.

She said: “Something is seriously wrong in the culture at the arts body and the cry for help is clearly directed at her.”

But Ms Hyslop said: “I am taking very seriously the criticism of Creative Scotland.

“That is why I have asked the board to engage directly with the sector, to address the points raised and communicate what action is already being taken. This process is already under way including a review of operations by the board.

“The concerns raised relate to internal workings and wider relationships that need to be dealt with by the organisation. The Scottish Government cannot and does not interfere in Creative Scotland’s artistic decisions - as set out in legislation.

“Sir Sandy Crombie and I have had constructive exchanges about the concerns of the sector and I know he understands what I expect of the organisation.

“I recognise that developing new ways of cultural provision and funding alongside such a wide range of artists and other partners will inevitably bring challenges. It is now for Creative Scotland to work with the sector to address these challenges. I have made it clear it is imperative that these issues get sorted.”

Ms Lochhead yesterday of a “universal feeling of absolute dismay” about Creative Scotland. “There is a feeling something has to be said and something has to be done because a potentially catastrophic set of initiatives are being put in place all the time that really threaten how people in Scotland work.”

Meanwhile Creative Scotland said it is producing a “plain English” guide for staff after being accused of using too much “business-speak and obfuscating jargon.” A spokesman said the guide had been in the pipeline for several months following repeated criticism of official guidelines and application forms.