Culture secretary fails to clear up confusion over promise to ‘more than double’ arts funding in Scotland
Scotland’s culture secretary has failed to clear up confusion over a government pledge to “more than double” spending on culture weeks after reinstating a funding cut for its own arts agency.
However the government is currently spending around £175m a year on arts organisations, including Creative Scotland, the National Galleries and National Museums, V&A Dundee, Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and the National Theatre of Scotland.
Mr Robertson, who faced claims that the £100m figure had been “plucked from the sky” for the SNP conference, did not address claims that the two key pledges did not add up and had caused confusion in the cultural sector.
He was quizzed at Holyrood during a debate on support for Scotland’s culture sector, where concerns were raised by MSPs over the future of institutions like the National Museum of Scotland and Filmhouse in Edinburgh, the Lammermuir Festival in East Lothian, and the Screen Machine, the mobile cinema which tours the Highlands and Islands.
Mr Robertson insisted that some of the additional funding would be made available to arts organisations next year, with details expected to be set out in December when government Budget plans are announced.
However it is not yet known if Creative Scotland will get a five-year commitment to help it decide on hundreds of new applications for long-term support, which it is due to decide on over the next 12 months after setting a final deadline for bids this week.
The government was hit with a furious backlash last month after breaking a commitment to protect Creative Scotland’s funding in the current financial year. The body was effectively ordered to dip into its financial reserves to avoid cuts for more than 120 arts organisations currently reliant on its long-term support.
Mr Robertson insists the new funding pledge is a “huge vote of confidence” in the cultural sector.
However Neil Bibby, Labour’s culture spokesman, asked him: “Why is the government stating that it is doubling the arts and culture budget by £100m when the existing budget appears to be £175m.
"People in the sector deserve to know what is and what isn’t included. Does it include the national performing companies? How will the £100m be distributed over the next five years and where is it coming from? How much of this funding will actually materialise in the upcoming budget and when will a timeline outlining decisions on the distribution of funding be published?
“It is essential the government provides answers and clarity, to restore trust and give certainty.”
Mr Robertson said the government's pledge was both a response to the “perfect storm” of spending pressures on arts organisations and a sign of its ambitions for the sector.
He added: "Due diligence and consideration are needed to ensure this increased funding over the next five years is directed for maximum impact.
"The priorities for increased investment will be taken forward in line with the upcoming culture strategy action plan. I welcome input from all in the sector and invite them to get in touch.
"For now, I can say the increase will start from next year, with further detail to be set out in the upcoming budget, through established processes.”
Speaking in the Holyrood debate, Conservative MSP Alexander Stewart said the Scottish Government had “exacerbated” the numerous challenges faced by the cultural sector by performing a “u-turn on its own u-turn” over Creative Scotland’s funding cut.
He added: "To say that the sector has been left struggling to trust this government would be a major understatement.
"People are exhausted trying to keep the show on the road, literally, there is a compete lack of clarity as to where and when this newly-announced funding will be distributed and the sector has been left with more questions than answers.
"Organisations up and down the length and breadth of the country are struggling to come to terms what with the government says in one word and then does in another.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the government was guilty of “cultural vandalism.”
He added: “It is baffling that the government has treated the sector so flippantly and with such great disrespect.
“Despite the fact that the sector was only just beginning to get back on its feet following the lockdown years, last December the government announced a 10 per cent cut to Creative Scotland’s budget.
"The very understandable uproar which followed this decision prompted the government to reverse the cut in February. Now we have a u-turn on the u-turn with the reinstatement of the initial funding cut.
"The First Minister’s latest announcement, at the SNP conference, was no more than a cynical move aimed at garnering good headlines.
"This may seem more like a joyless round of the Hokey Cokey, but it has had profound consequences for Creative Scotland, which has been forced to use its cash reserves to cover that shortfall.”
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