Thousands of young people have benefited from a huge variety of projects across Scotland, from string groups in Galloway to the Fèis movement across the Highlands.
Yesterday, I got a message from a musician friend who works on a project funded by the initiative.
Having been commissioned to undertake tutoring for the month of November, he was told earlier this week that the funding was on pause and that his tutoring was thus being cancelled.
Project administrators across Scotland wrote to musicians advising them to seek other work opportunities. One musician in Fife was told at 5.30pm on Monday that all projects were on pause. Children turned up on Tuesday morning to find no tutors.
This sudden abandonment of months of planning and work in the 20th anniversary year had come about as a consequence of the Scottish Government’s emergency budget review following the cost-of-living crisis and the pay awards to public sector workers following the summer’s strikes.
Creative Scotland was told by ministers that, in relation to the Youth Music Initiative for 2022-23, “all government portfolios have been asked to identify remaining non-contracted spend in 2022/23” and “to defer issuing contracts indefinitely”.
As a consequence, thousands of young people across Scotland had their plans upended, musicians had commissioned work cancelled and projects for the winter were thrown into chaos.
The minister responsible for issuing the instructions to Creative Scotland responded saying that “the funding for YMI is secure”.
That was of little comfort to those who had been thrown out of work and the young people turning up to an abandoned class. How could funding which was to be indefinitely paused be, at the same time, secure? Who was making these decisions and why were projects being abandoned with less than 12 hours’ notice?
Late yesterday, following a week of stress and anxiety across the country, a similar statement was issued by the Scottish Government.
“Following a brief pause,” it said, “the funding for the Youth Music Initiative is secure.” Except that it was never a brief pause. It was, as the government made clear to Creative Scotland, an indefinite suspension with all the chaos that this entailed.
Government budgets are under strain, cuts are being made and, as the First Minister noted when announcing the Programme for Government, hard choices have to be made. The highly successful Youth Music Initiative is ring-fenced funding by government. If there are hard choices to be made, then by all means review this and other programmes.
But to essentially suspend programmes indefinitely and have children turn up to empty classrooms with 12 hours’ notice is a shoddy, shambolic and shameful way to treat partners, pupils and professional musicians.
The government’s U-turn appears to have saved the initiative but cuts yet to be made need to be handled with more sensitivity and professionalism than was the case here.
Andy Wightman is a former MSP, land campaigner and the author of the book, The Poor Had No Lawyers