Scottish Youth Theatre to close following funding knock back

Scottish Youth Theatre said it had been left with no other option but to cease trading. Picture: John Devlin
Scottish Youth Theatre said it had been left with no other option but to cease trading. Picture: John Devlin
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Scotland’s long-running national youth theatre company is to wind up within months after being turned down for funding by a controversial arts quango.

Scottish Youth Theatre said it had been left with no other option but to cease trading after more than 40 years after Creative Scotland rejected a bid for long-term support.

The announcement from its board will come as a major embarrassment for the Scottish Government, which has declared 2018 an official “Year of Young People” and awarded Creative Scotland an extra £16.6 million in its annual budget settlement last December.

The government intervened within hours of the theatre company’s announcement to urge it to “keep talking” to Creative Scotland about other potential sources of funding.

A spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Youth Theatre’s announcement will be of serious ‎concern for many people.”

The quango, led by chief executive Janet Archer, has already been forced to apologise to the Scottish Parliament last month for the handling of recent funding cuts. It has also pledged a “root and branch review” of the way decisions were made.

Douglas Henshall, Gerard Butler, Kate Dickie and Karen Gillan are among the big-name actors who have come through Scottish Youth Theatre’s ranks.

The company, which also counts Billy Boyd, Brian Cox, Alan Cumming, Blythe Duff, Elaine C Smith, Emma Thompson and Richard Wilson among its patrons, said it will have to close at the end of July. A statement posted on its website said Creative Scotland’s rejection had left it facing a gap of around a third of its required income.

Creative Scotland was forced to overturn funding cuts for companies working with children, women and disabled performers in the wake of widespread outcry after revealing its spending plans for the next three years in January.

However there was no reprieve for Scottish Youth Theatre, despite a warning for the company that the funding rejection left it facing “serious challenges.”

Although it had been funded to the tune of £400,000 over the previous three years, the Creative Scotland funding was ringfenced support for the company via the Scottish Government and the private-sector firm Clyde Blowers.

It said at the time: “Scottish Youth Theatre exists to ensure that children and young people have access to such life-changing experiences that will shape the people they will become.

“We need to act quickly and prudently to steady the ship once more and find a way to continue to offer these opportunities - especially in Scotland’s Year of Young People.”

Its new statement said: “After the news from Creative Scotland we have worked on many business models, a variety of cost cutting exercises and discussed how we can better collaborate to share costs and resources with like-minded organisations.

“However sadly, without a realistic expectation that we would be successful in securing financial support in such a limited time to meet the significant funding gap, we are left with no other realistic option but to cease trading on 31st July 2018.

“We remain committed to delivering our activities up to the end of the summer period with as much energy and dedication as we always have, in a celebration of the children and young people we are so committed to serving.

“If you are a current participant then the best way you can support us is by continuing to attend for the remainder of our time. We appreciate this will be devastating news for so many and thank everyone for their unswerving support in recent months.”

Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman’s theatre critic, said: “Given Scottish Youth Theatre’s history of encouraging major talent, I would say that this is a bombshell in the world of Scottish theatre, although perhaps not an entirely unexpected one following Creative Scotland’s January announcement.

“I would also say that it is worrying to see good arts organisations going to the wall as the result of a funding round widely acknowledged to have been chaotic, confused and badly managed.

I would ask whether we can afford to lose significant arts companies because of funding decisions seen by so many as lacking coherence and credibility, and when is the Scottish Government going to act to hold Creative Scotland’s managers to account for the extraordinary mess they have created.”

A spokesman for Creative Scotland said: “We’re disappointed to learn of Scottish Youth Theatre’s plans to cease trading later this year.

“Scottish Youth Theatre applied for regular funding for 2018-21, however, in a competitive process and within the limits of funds available, we were not able to support them through this funding route, but have been in discussions with them regarding alternative routes to support.

“We’re fully committed to supporting access to creativity for young people through the organisations we fund across Scotland.

“Youth arts are well represented in the network of regularly funded organisations, with more than 80 per cent of them including work with or for children and young people.

“We also provide extensive support for arts and young people through open project funding and through multi-million pound targeted funding programmes.”

David Watt, chief executive of the charity Arts & Business Scotland, said: “Scottish Youth Theatre has been a stalwart of the Scottish arts scene for over 40 years and has provided an exceptional creative platform for the country’s young performing arts talent.

“As such, its disappearance will come as a major blow to Scotland’s cultural scene and leaves a void that will be very hard to fill.”

• READ MORE: Insight: The Year of Young People 2018