Brian Ferguson: Week of woes for Fiona Hyslop

IF SCOTLAND’S culture secretary has had a more uncomfortable week in the job I’m sure it would be cold comfort to be reminded of it after the events of the last seven days.

The culture secretary is enduring a rare rough period in her tenure. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
The culture secretary is enduring a rare rough period in her tenure. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Such has been the grip Fiona Hyslop has exerted since being appointed almost five years ago, storm clouds have rarely gathered above her head.

So the last few days will not have been easy for a politician who has built up plenty of goodwill over her stewardship of the cultural sector.

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It is difficult to gauge which is the most serious issue for her – the plug being pulled on government support for Glasgow’s film studio project in the face of huge industry support; revelations about nine months of silence over the soaring costs of Dundee’s V&A project; or the release of e-mails showing the extent of Creative Scotland’s concern about government interference in its funding decisions.

The Holyrood inquiry into the state of the Scottish film industry has been building up a head of steam for weeks, with a string of damning written submissions being published even before leading producers appeared before MSPs.

The new £3 million in funding for the film and TV industries has received a lukewarm reception amid fears of a rushed announcement to coincide with Ms Hyslop’s own appearance. And £3m in public funding was what appeared to be on offer for Glasgow’s studio 18 months ago, until it became clear other sites were also being looked at.

If the mysterious new private-sector proposal, which seems to have emerged from nowhere, now comes to nothing then Scotland’s ambitions as a serious film hub will be back at square one.

It was not a huge surprise that the government was alerted long ago to the risks of the V&A project. It was an open secret in Dundee months before the council came clean. It was also obvious that a £30m rescue plan would not have been thrown together in days.

But questions over why the cost soared so much, who had overall control, and exactly who knew what and when are all going to increase until answers are provided.

As for the Scottish Youth Theatre saga, the government has left Creative Scotland badly exposed by overturning its refusal of long-term funding for the company, no matter how wrong-headed this must have seemed at the time to Ms Hyslop and her old boss, Alex Salmond.

With Scottish Youth Theatre’s future seemingly assured, work set to start on Dundee’s long-delayed museum project within the month and an announcement on an alternative film studio promised within eight weeks, Ms Hyslop is entitled to point out that her administration’s support for the culture sector is evident.

But does the end justify the means?