Culture is our identity; it’s how we see ourselves, how we see our place in the world and how we relate to others. It’s the stories of life in Scotland, and it underpins mental well-being – both collectively and individually – in many different ways. The silences that echoed across 2020 as live music vanished from our lives serve as a firm reminder of this. Unless intervention is made now, we’ll be lucky if there are whispers in the years to come. Robert Kilpatrick, interim CEO Scottish Music Industry Association.
How much is Scotland prepared to pay for a thriving arts and culture sector?
According to the SNP’s 2021 manifesto, ‘culture is central to who we are as a nation’.
Yet the cultural sector is struggling to survive. Underfunded for 13 years, says the arts networking body, Culture Counts. Betrayed by Culture Secretary Angus Robertson’s U-turns on funding cuts, says Campaign for the Arts. Battered by a ‘perfect storm’ (long-term budget pressures, falling revenue and rising costs) say the Scottish Parliament’s Culture Committee.
“Without truly innovative approaches to funding, there is a real danger that Scotland’s skilled cultural workforce will be lost along with some of our best-loved cultural icons.” Clare Adamson, convenor Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee.
At the end of a year of confusing cuts, un-cuts and renewed cuts, the Scottish Government’s latest pledge is to invest £100m in the cultural sector over the next five years. How widely and how quickly that will be shared is not yet known. Details are expected in December when Shona Robison, financial secretary, will announce in the Scottish Budget how much Scotland has to spend and where it will go in 2024-25.
One of the most striking aspects of the arts funding crisis is how tiny the sums involved are. Scottish culture sits at the bottom of the government’s yearly spending plans. In 2023-24, with a budget of £59.7 billion, Scottish Government set the biggest share (as always) for health (£19.2bn), social justice, housing and local government (£18.3bn), finance and economy (£8.4bn). That’s around £46bn accounted for before you get to Net Zero, education and justice. For Rural Affairs and Islands there is just under £1bn (£965m). And third from the bottom sits Constitution, External Affairs and Culture with just £347m.
In other words, culture is almost an afterthought, squeezed into an overloaded department. According to Culture Counts, Scotland spends just 0.05% of its budget on culture – less than most European countries where the EU average of general government spending on arts services (including broadcasting and publishing) in 2021 was 1% or €71.2bn in total.
The extra funding announced by First Minister Humza Yousaf at the SNP conference has been widely welcomed across the cultural sector. But how quickly it is spent and how far it stretches will determine the survival of many arts groups, not least the smallest and most vulnerable community ventures which bring life and human meaning as well as much needed jobs to local communities. [See further reading for the economic ‘multiplier effect’ of creative clusters.]
Culture Counts urges the Scottish Government to bring forward as much as possible into the 2024-25 spending plans.
Our long-term goal continues to aim for 1% of overall Scottish Government expenditure towards culture. This will bring us closer to the levels of investment across Europe, where the average is 1.5%.
The scale of the challenge facing Creative Scotland is clear. Figures vary, but latest estimates indicate its new multi-year programme has so far produced applications from 361 cultural organisations, adding up to a total of around £96m per year – three times more than the current £33m cost of the 119 regular funded organisation (RFO) network, and 40% more than the total budget that Creative Scotland receives from the Scottish Government.
“It’s such a small amount in real terms – in the terms of any other sector,” says Dougal Perman, former chair of Scottish Music Industry Association, and member of Creative Industries Leadership Group, “If you think of £96m as R&D funding just think how it could be spent to benefit organisations, local economies and the wellbeing of communities across Scotland. If we spent more on culture perhaps we wouldn’t need to spend so much on health?”
An outburst of protest has brought debate and discussion into the Parliament. Robust petitions by the Campaign for the Arts urge Robertson to ‘keep his promise’ and restore the £6.6m he has cut from Creative Scotland’s budget for 2023-24. Creative Scotland has used its National Lottery reserves to prevent many RFOs from devastating 40% cuts to their funding. But, as SMIA’s Kilpatrick points out, with depleted reserves Creative Scotland has less money to invest in the daunting transition from regular funding to multi-year-funding. “Many unsuccessful organisations will soon vanish from the fabric of our cultural landscape, and with them, many creative opportunities and a significant part of our cultural identity as we know it today.”
Regular funding has been a lifeline to a wide range of arts and creative ventures – think Glasgow’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint, Angus’s Hospitalfield, Wigtown’s Literary Festival. But it has been frozen since 2018 and with the added pressures of Covid and Brexit, there have been significant casualties such as Edinburgh and Aberdeen Filmhouses (though Edinburgh’s may be revived)
Government investors must keep their word
There is severe pressure on local government funding too as Audit Scotland outlined in its 2021 submission to the Scottish Government’s call for views on culture funding. Stressing the need for long-term funding based on forward planning, the body underlines why that matters. Once again, culture is inextricably linked with health and wellbeing:
“Cultural services play a significant role in health and wellbeing, place-shaping and helping communities to be more resilient. This should be considered within the broader thinking around what financial support for health really means.” Audit Scotland
Arts and culture are so closely woven into our daily lives it is easy to take them for granted until they are gone.
“It’s grossly short-sighted” says Rachel Maclean, a Glasgow-based multi-media artist. During the February 2023 campaign – around the first petition to restore Robertson’s £6.6m cut – Maclean argued that funding for the arts is a vital investment in the individuals and institutions who help to shape a vision of Scotland’s future. “This funding cut won’t just mean a few less exhibitions, plays or books, it will result in the careers of Scotland’s future talent being cut off before they were even able to get started. This decision will impact the prospects of an entire generation of artists, the negative effects of which will be felt for years to come.”
Violinist and Edinburgh International Festival director Nicola Benedetti said of planned Creative Scotland cuts to Lammermuir Festival funding: “Being able to share the best, world-class music making with audiences not residing in our cities but in rural areas is a really important part of our nation’s cultural fabric.”
Jim Hollington, chief executive of Dance Base, Scotland’s National Centre for Dance, said: “This is absolutely shocking. Arts organisations have moved mountains to adapt to the cost crisis, but we need our government investors to play their part and keep their word.”
Iona Fyfe, singer and musician, wrote in The National: “Calling out the Scottish Government’s arts funding cuts flip-flops does not make you a traitor. A thriving culture sector is paramount to the wellbeing economy, so why has the Scottish Government imposed £6.6 million in cuts?“
Creative Scotland’s 119 Regularly Funded Organisations (RFOs) directly employ 5,000 workers, support 25,500 individual artists and provide millions of opportunities for people across Scotland to engage with the arts and culture. Campaign for the Arts
Creative industries contribute more than £5bn to the Scottish economy every year. With more than 15,000 businesses employing more than 70,000 they make a vital contribution to the national wealth and international reputation of Scotland. CultureCountsScotland
Featured image is Gift Horse, Hans Haacke sculpture occupying the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square