Scottish Government accused of ‘leaning on’ Creative Scotland by former board member

The Scottish Government has been accused of meddling in the running of arts quango Creative Scotland by a former board member who quit after a review of controversial funding cuts was ordered.

Ruth Wishart says Creative Scotland was grappling with horrible scenarios during 2017. Picture: John Devlin
Ruth Wishart says Creative Scotland was grappling with horrible scenarios during 2017. Picture: John Devlin

Ruth Wishart claims the government regularly “leaned on” the funding body and issued it with guidance that “stretched the definition of that term”.

Writing in a new book marking 20 years of the Scottish Parliament, the journalist and broadcaster said civil servants were “overly prone to dispatching serial 
emails to senior staff” at the quango.

Ms Wishart also criticised former first minister Alex Salmond for “producing a cash rabbit from his hat” for the Scottish Youth Theatre after a funding bid was rejected.

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    She recalled how Creative Scotland had been grappling with several “horrible” different scenarios during 2017 before a “helter skelter” decision-making process when the government finally set its budget.

    Ms Wishart quit in January last year after an emergency board meeting was announced in the wake of an intervention on Twitter from culture secretary Fiona Hyslop after 20 companies lost out on long-term support. Five were reprieved after a board meeting the government said had been convened to “review certain decisions”.

    In June 2018 a Holyrood inquiry into the furore found Creative Scotland had fallen “well below” the standard expected of a public body. Chief executive Janet Archer then quit in July last year.

    Writing in Scotland the Brave, Ms Wishart said: “There is a balance to be struck between the government respecting the supposed arm’s length nature of their involvement with the agency and the agency recognising that funding wheels need to be oiled by mutual co-operation.

    “There have been occasions in recent years when the government has leant on the organisation, perhaps because it lacked the necessary confidence in elements of its leadership.

    “The letter of ‘guidance’ sometimes stretched the definition of that term. Civil servants became overly prone to dispatching serial emails to senior staff demanding information.”

    Ms Wishart said Mr Salmond’s intervention undermined confidence that funding processes were “as neutral and rigorous as possible”.

    A government spokeswoman said: “Ministers respect the independence of Creative Scotland’s funding decisions, based on its expertise, and do not intervene in those decisions.”

    Iain Munro, acting chief executive of Creative Scotland, said: “We hugely value Ruth’s deep and intimate knowledge of Scotland’s cultural sector.”