Executive set to reject arts super-quango

THE Scottish Executive is likely to turn its back on "Culture Scotland", the arts super-quango proposed in its £600,000 policy review, according to those who recommended its creation.

The singer Sheena Wellington, a leading member of the Cultural Commission, believes there is little appetite for the sweeping changes it recommended earlier this year.

It proposed abolishing the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen in favour of two new agencies, Culture Scotland to handle policy and the Culture Fund to manage the cash.

But Ms Wellington told The Scotsman this week that the Executive appeared focused on the commission's "option three" - a "federation" of existing bodies. "I suspect it means a rearranging of the status quo," she said.

A parliamentary debate on the commission's findings is set for 22 September. An Executive spokesman said it would be "unfair and discourteous" to MSPs to comment ahead of the debate.

The year-long commission won the backing of the arts world by calling for 100 million in extra spending, while embracing a hands-off approach to policy. But critics called its report muddled and far too long, with 100 overlapping recommendations and hundreds of pages. Ms Wellington said that with more time it could have been better edited. "It's less complicated than it looks," she said.

She added she had not talked to ministers about the proposals. "You get the impression nobody is speaking to you."

The case for extra cash was also looking more difficult, however. Finance chiefs have warned that the Executive is facing the first substantial spending cuts since devolution. Last month, the Scottish Arts Council warned theatre and arts groups of hard choices as it conducts its own "strategic review" of spending aimed at finding an "optimum" level of support for arts organisations.

Ruth Ogston, the general manager of the 7:84 Theatre Company, said: "The arts council warned if they get the same budget from the Executive, they will cull a number of their existing clients. They cannot sustain their status quo on existing funding. We fear we would be in that danger category."

Jack McConnell, the First Minister, paved the way for the Cultural Commission two years ago in his St Andrew's Day speech, pledging to put culture at the heart of Scottish life and government. The commission was set up by the former culture minister Frank McAveety, but poses a policy headache for his successor, Patricia Ferguson.

A veteran observer of the arts in Scotland said: "The Executive is in quite a spot of difficulty, or at least the culture minister is. The problem is that they set out a very ambitious agenda.

"It's one thing to say they don't like the structures proposed, but what are they going to do? Is the ambition going to be dropped? And if it's not, how is it going to be delivered?"

Cultural proposals

THE Cultural Commission, with eight board members and a 600,000 budget, met for a year.

Its recommendations will be debated in the Scottish Parliament on 22 September. It made a total of 124 recommendations, including: cultural rights for Scottish citizens; a deputy minister for culture; and an extra 100 million in funding for the arts, with a target of 1 per cent of the Executive's budget; and a new infrastructure centred on a policy agency, Culture Scotland and a funding body, the Culture Fund.