Exclusive:Scottish arts organisations braced for harsh cuts as exodus of talent already underway

Artists and performers are said to be choosing to leave the crisis-hit sector seeking more stability

The nation’s crisis-hit cultural sector is facing major upheaval after the Scottish Government declared that it wanted to roll out cost-cutting reforms across the country's major arts organisations.

Work is underway on a spending squeeze expected to affect Scotland’s national museums, galleries and performing arts companies, as well as the national agencies Creative Scotland and Screen Scotland.

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The possibility of wide-ranging cuts has emerged as industry leaders warned of growing evidence of an exodus of talent from performers and arts workers seeking more stable careers due to Scotland’s “extremely precarious” arts funding environment.

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is one of Scotland's national performing companies. Picture: Jessica CowleyThe Royal Scottish National Orchestra is one of Scotland's national performing companies. Picture: Jessica Cowley
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is one of Scotland's national performing companies. Picture: Jessica Cowley

The Culture Counts collective, which works with organisations across the country, has warned First Minister John Swinney that Scotland’s “reputation and ambitions as an international cultural leader are now at serious risk.”

It has told him that some organisations will not survive the current financial year without urgent intervention.

Culture spending is said to have slumped to just 0.51 per cent per head of the population, one of the lowest in Europe, after “13 years of erosion of culture budgets.”

However Scottish culture secretary Angus Robertson has told the Scottish Parliament that “efficiency options” need to be brought forward to ensure the arts industry becomes more “fiscally sustainable.”

Angus Robertson is Scotland's culture secretary. Picture: Lisa FergusonAngus Robertson is Scotland's culture secretary. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Angus Robertson is Scotland's culture secretary. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

He has declared that the government wants to reform the sector “with a view to delivering more efficient, cost effective, sustainable services now and for future generations.”

Mr Robertson said the “crucial” work was aimed at ensuring the culture sector became more “cost effective” and "fiscally sustainable" in future.

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Possible options for savings are expected to include merging organisations, as well as ordering them to work together and share resources to reduce running costs.

The government has suggested it wants to improve the effectiveness of spending both within and between public bodies, citing the “sharing of back-off functions” and removal of duplication as examples of how to bring down costs.

The National Theatre of Scotland has recently been touring with its production Maggie & Me. Picture: Mihaela BodlovicThe National Theatre of Scotland has recently been touring with its production Maggie & Me. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic
The National Theatre of Scotland has recently been touring with its production Maggie & Me. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

The spending squeeze on arts organisations has emerged less than a year after the Scottish Government pledged to “more than double” culture funding in Scotland by 2028.

However it has not given an indicative budget to Creative Scotland for the next three financial years even though it is due to decide in October on £87 million worth of vital long-term funding applications from events, venues and organisations.

The government currently allocates £196.6 million in its budget, with Creative Scotland’s share around £68.5 million.

Around £23 million of the overall culture budget is shared by the national performing companies, including the National Theatre of Scotland, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Ballet, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Scottish Opera.

More than £90 million is ringfenced for the national collections held by organisations including the National Galleries of Scotland, National Museums Scotland and the National Library of Scotland, with other funding going to major festivals in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and V&A Dundee.

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However Culture Counts has warned that urgent action is needed for new investment to tackle a “perfect storm” it says it has been warning about for two years.

In a recent letter to Mr Swinney, director Lori Anderson said: “We’re now sadly seeing what a lack of investment with over a decade of standstill funding coupled with the impacts of Brexit, the pandemic, high inflation, and the cost-of-living crisis really looks like.

“Scotland’s culture sector is world-class and attracts visitors in their millions every year. It supports jobs, generates income, drives innovation and has proven societal benefits from supporting health and well-being to social inclusion.

"However, the culture sector is a finely balanced and interconnected eco-system, so any losses have repercussions across the sector.

”Any organisation that disappears doesn't just leave a gap. It affects and changes everything connected to it. As cultural organisations fight for survival, we will see a growing impact on jobs, cultural services and in communities across Scotland.

"Large-scale contraction will have a systemic effect that can't be predicted or easily undone. Our artists, performers and freelancers are vulnerable, and some are choosing to leave the sector seeking more stability. Our reputation and ambitions as an international cultural leader are now at serious risk.”

In his letter to Holyrood’s culture committee, Mr Robertson states: “In order to maximise the impact of existing public sector support to the sector, the Scottish Government has been planning preliminary work to reform the culture sector with a view to delivering more efficient, cost effective, sustainable services now and for future generations.

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"This planning work is crucial and will ensure we can continue to work with the publicly funded culture bodies to transform our culture sector to becoming more fiscally sustainable, contributing to our economy whilst delivering social impact that Scotland’s people and communities need.”

A spokesman for the government said: “There is a requirement to ensure our public services, of which the culture sector is a fundamental part, are fit for purpose, now and for future generations.

"Public service reform is a programme that will take place over a minimum of 10 years and it will continue to be a collaborative process. We expect all our public services to be run as efficiently as possible.

“We know how important the culture and arts sector is to Scotland and we have committed to work to sustain and develop it. This year we have increased culture sector funding by almost £16 million, as the first step to achieving our commitment to invest at least £100 million more annually in culture and the arts by 2028/29.”

A spokesman for Creative Scotland said: “We note the cabinet secretary’s letter to the culture Committee, and we look forward to contributing fully to any review of support for the culture sector in Scotland.”

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