Nicola Sturgeon: UK Government's arts rescue package will be passed on 'quickly and in full'

Nicola Sturgeon has pledged that Scotland’s crisis-hit arts and culture venues and companies will be able to access a rescue package from the UK Government “quickly and in full.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promoting Edinburgh's festivals in Brussels last year. Picture: Bea Borgers

The First Minister said she “very much” welcomed the pledge of £97m to help Scotland’s cultural sector withstand the lengthy shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

However it is not yet known how the Scottish Government will distribute the new funding, which is also aimed at supporting the heritage sector.

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Within minutes of the announcement of Scotland’s share of the £1.57 billion UK-wide rescue package, Conservative politicians, including Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, were demanding that Ms Sturgeon’s administration make sure it was used to support the cultural sector.

However Ms Sturgeon pointed out that the Scottish Government had called for the UK Government to “step up” with support for arts and culture on Friday when she and culture secretary Fiona Hyslop unveiled the creation of a £10 million relief fund to help prevent arts venues from going bust and widespread job losses across the industry.

The UK Government was under growing pressure from leading cultural organisations and figures from the theatre and music industries over its lack of dedicated financial support in the face of claims that social distancing will make it impossible for live events to be viable until well into 2021.

Its funding deal, made up of £880 million in grants and £270 million in loans, is expected to help museums, galleries, theatres, cinemas, heritage sites and music venues survive without the need for mass redundancies.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down.”

Speaking at her daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon said: “On Friday we became the first government in the UK to provide direct support to performing arts centres.

“We called then on the UK Government to step up and use the powers it has to provide further assistance, so we very much welcome the announcement of a significant package of financial support.

“We are now seeking clarity on exactly how the different funding arrangements will work and we will engage quickly with those in our cultural and heritage sectors to identify the best ways in which the Scottish Government can now provide additional help.

“But I want to give an assurance that the funding announced by the UK Government will be passed on in full in Scotland to our arts, culture and heritage sectors.

“I hope this news, together with last week’s announcement, will provide people working across the sector with some optimism for the future.”

Ms Hyslop added: “I welcome the Covid crisis support for culture from the UK Government funded from the extensive borrowing powers they hold. We have been calling for this. There are many culture and heritage areas to support, so we need to work together to make this work for Scotland.”

Francesca Hegyi, executive director of the Edinburgh International Festival, said: “As an organisation that presents and produces the work of artists from Scotland, the UK and across the world, we’re deeply aware of Covid-19’s effect on our industry and on the many artists, freelancers and suppliers that rely upon us.

“The Edinburgh festivals generate £313m for the economy, so the absence of activity will be felt far beyond our audiences. This investment will ensure we emerge from the pandemic with the necessary strength and resilience required to once again welcome audiences to our global celebration of the arts.”

Robert Kilpatrick, general manager of the Scottish Music Industry Association, said: “We want to work constructively with the Scottish Government, its agencies, industry organisations and the private sector to make sure commercial music industry operators are able to access vital funding too; especially in the live sector.

“These businesses — which are part of Scotland’s cultural identity and contribute considerably to the country’s economy — are usually prosperous and resilient but have been devastated through no fault of their own.”

Nick Stewart, manager of Sneaky Pete’s live music venue in Edinburgh and spokesman for the Music Venues Alliance in Scotland, said: “We warmly welcome this announcement, and we are keen to continue our discussions with Scottish Government on how to target funds to prevent the looming permanent closure of many grassroots music venues in Scotland, which are the research and development hub of Scotland's music industry and at the heart of our communities.

“Fiona Hyslop has let us know at many stages that she is ‘fully supportive of grassroots music venues and the important role they play in the music sector and in contributing to the talent pipeline,’ so we are looking forward to our next conversations about how these funds will not just save Scottish venues, but make them thrive.”

Jude Henderson, director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre, said: “We’re glad that the UK Government has also recognised the impact of our industry, following last week’s announcement from the Scottish Government.

“We now look forward to working closely with the Scottish Government, Creative Scotland and our colleagues across the arts and cultural sector on the most effective distribution of the extra £97 million coming to Scotland.

“In total, it is a very significant sum but it needs to do a lot of work to support freelancers, venues and companies to survive, adapt and thrive.”

Elizabeth Newman, artistic director of Pitlochry Festival Theatre, which had previously warned that almost half its staff were at risk of redundancy, said: “We are so relieved that this generous help has arrived from the UK and Scottish governments.

“We have always known that they have understood the importance of theatre, especially with regards to how much it contributes to the economy and the wellbeing of the population.

“For Pitlochry Festival Theatre and the Scottish theatre industry this is the first vital step on a long road of recovery and we are reassured by the government's decision. We cannot thank both governments for their unrelenting support during this unprecedented time.”

Playwright David Greig, who is also artistic director at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, which had previously warned it would run out of money in November without making job cuts, said: “This is very good news. Culture belongs to us all. It’s an economic argument and a moral one. This is a chance for rebirth & change in our sector. Let’s use it wisely.

“Well done to all who have advocated from the grassroots to the national institutions. Everyone played a role.”

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