After Scottish culture's funding cuts turmoil, sector needs to be treated with more respect – Brian Ferguson
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In the space of three months, an extra £12 million has been found, after all. Creative Scotland has had a ten per cent budget cut from the government overturned, the future of the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh has been secured and funding cuts for music education projects run by the children's charity Sistema Scotland have been shored up.
Given that the overall budget for culture and events in Scotland has now risen from £206 million to £218 million, it seems fair enough to wonder whether there is any cause for celebration, or even a case for some degree of gratitude towards the government. But I'm not so sure, on both counts.
It was a major misstep to cut Creative Scotland’s funding by £7 million in December’s budget after months of campaigning, lobbying and pleading for action to tackle the impact of rising costs on the cultural sectors. The decision was a cruel blow at the time, delivered just before Christmas, when companies and organisations were finishing up for the festive period.
The passage of time since has only made that look more damaging to the cultural sector itself, but also the relationship between Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government. The cut was eventually scrapped but only after the government found itself facing a full-scale rebellion from artists, companies, campaign groups and union leaders.
The reinstatement was not enough to keep many of the critics at bay, largely because it did not resolve the key issue of standstill funding, amounting to a real-terms cut due to the impact of inflation and other cost rises. In contrast, the government was able to fund increases for the National Museums and National Galleries, amounting to 9.5 per cent and 9.8 per cent respectively, to help meet their rising costs.
The extra £3.85m for the King’s Theatre refurbishment, over and above the £6.5m previously committed by the government, was clearly essential to allow the long-awaited project to finally start, despite an £8.9m funding gap revealed in January. But the fact the government was able to find the money within the 35-day deadline set by the operators of the King’s suggested that its cupboard was not exactly bare.
That suspicion was only heightened when the government announced an additional £1.5m in funding for Sistema Scotland, over and above its annual £1.1m support, within days of the SNP-led local authorities in both Aberdeen and Dundee pulling the plug on their support.
It is clear that the government’s actions in recent weeks will have saved hundreds if not thousands of jobs. But there is little doubt that the various campaigns and the political pressure applied made the crucial difference. It is even clearer that the cuts which put those jobs at risk should never have been made in the first place.
After an unnecessary, stressful and exhausting period, as well as recent political turmoil, the next few months seem to offer the opportunity for a reset to ensure the events of the past few months are never repeated. It is also time for cultural organisations and their workers to be treated with a lot more respect.