Scotland's City of Culture bids will help the Covid recovery even if they don't win – Alister Jack MP

Scotland’s thriving cultural scene has long been a great source of pride and celebration.

The cultural renaissance inspired by Dundee's V&A museum, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, pictured, could boost the Tay Cities' chances of becoming the 2025 City of Culture (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
The cultural renaissance inspired by Dundee's V&A museum, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, pictured, could boost the Tay Cities' chances of becoming the 2025 City of Culture (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

From Niel Gow to Nicola Benedetti, our musical pantheon sparkles across the genres. The talented Scottish writers of today are worthy inheritors of a rich literary tradition nurtured by the likes of Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Violet Jacob.

Our bold and imaginative artists stand on the shoulders of painters like Henry Raeburn and the much-missed Elizabeth Blackadder, who so sadly passed away last week.

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Our festivals, museums and performers are the envy of the world and, crucially, they bring the world to Scotland.

I know just how much our talented artists and arts administrators bring to the cultural and economic fabric of our country. I also know just how hard the Covid pandemic has hit the performing arts and how important it is that we recover strongly in the long term.

Therefore, I was delighted to learn that three Scottish bids have entered the UK government’s competition to become UK City of Culture 2025.

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As Scottish Secretary, it is not a matter for me who wins the competition and it would be wrong for me to express a preference for a particular bid.

But I would make the observation that the bids tabled by Tay Cities, the Borderlands and Stirling are a sign of the resilience, ambition and creativity of the areas in question.

Of course, they face stiff competition – not only from each other, but also from the 17 other bids put forward by the other entrants from all parts of the UK in a record entry to the contest.

Being crowned UK City of Culture in the four-yearly competition brings enormous prestige. But the benefits – both culturally and economically – go far beyond the kudos of taking the title.

All those who enter will gain from working together to raise the profile and boost the economy of their areas. As we come out of the pandemic, the competition will act as a catalyst for our levelling up agenda across the UK.

To the victor in the competition run by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), in collaboration with the devolved administrations, the spoils are bountiful. Whoever takes over the baton from Coventry, the 2021 UK City of Culture winner, can look forward to new jobs and millions in terms of visitors and investment.

Coventry received more than £15.5 million from the UK government as a result of its triumph with funds going towards arts and heritage venues as well as its famous cathedral.

Furthermore, more than £37 million has been unlocked in additional funding for the UK City of Culture programme and more than £100 million so far in capital investment. Overall, the programme aims to attract 5,000 volunteers in the city and create more than 900 jobs.

As the previous winner in 2017, Hull was given £15 million by the UK government and raised more than £32 million for its City of Culture year.

And there was £676 million of new public and private investment in Hull from 2013 to 2019 that can be at least partly attributed to the city becoming UK City of Culture, while the volume of tourism visits to Hull in 2017 increased by 9.7 per cent from just over 5.6 million to 6.2 million with many visitors enjoying some of the 2,800 events.

The spin-offs are not confined to the winners. Although Paisley lost out to Coventry in 2021, the town received much credit for the imaginative and ambitious bid which took it to the short-list.

Indeed, a report by the Cultural Cities Inquiry said Paisley’s bid rallied local, national and international partners, built cross-party working and left a legacy which will lift economic growth, take communities out of poverty and enhance the town’s image.

And local politicians have hailed the bid for acting as a catalyst for the investment of millions in festivals, the arts and the area’s cultural infrastructure.

The competition allows regions as well as individual cities to enter, which presents exciting opportunities for places north of the border.

The Tay Cities bid is a partnership of Dundee City, Perth and Kinross, Fife and Angus councils. Their bid is being developed through the Tay Cities Deal, one of the 12 deals across Scotland in which the UK government is investing £1.5 billion.

The Borderlands bid is developed from a similar template and is unique in that it straddles the border involving local authorities in the south of Scotland and north of England.

Scotland’s growth deals are already creating many thousands of jobs and millions in extra investment. These innovative bids are another sign that growth deals are galvanising regions and encouraging partners to capitalise on their distinctive identities for the greater good.

With the inclusion of Stirling, they make three extremely compelling Scottish bids each with their own selling points.

The cultural renaissance inspired by Dundee’s V&A museum, the coming together of the rich culture of the Borderlands’ Anglo/Scottish bid and the impressive heritage of Stirling barely scrape the surface when it comes to the factors to be considered by the City of Culture Panel.

I don’t envy the panel in its task, but what I do know is that the process of bidding and working across communities to showcase areas all over the UK will stimulate the economy and benefit our artists, performers and administrators.

Scotland has already been allocated £97 million from the UK government’s Culture Recovery Fund, announced in July 2020, as well as £1 million for the Edinburgh festivals to improve digital capability during the pandemic. While our £750 million Live Events Insurance Scheme will cover the costs of cancellations.

The competition to become the 2025 UK City of Culture will consolidate those measures and I wish all entrants the very best of luck.

Alister Jack is Conservative MP for Dumfries and Galloway and Secretary of State for Scotland

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