Unions demand reversal of Scotland’s culture cuts which 'threaten 8,500 jobs'
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They have suggested that ministers are using culture jobs as “cannon fodder” to make savings in their budget plans, describing the planned cut as a “wholly lamentable political choice.”
Eight unions representing actors, musicians, visual artists, writers, crew and technicians have joined forces to plead for a rethink over a £7 million cut in the national arts agency’s grant for the next financial year.
The government has been warned that targeting Creative Scotland will affect some of the country’s most “precarious” workers, due to their already low pay and insecure employment, with many having to take on two jobs to make ends meet.
The Scottish Trades Union Congress has written to Deputy First Minister and acting Finance Secretary John Swinney and Culture Secretary Angus Robertson on behalf of the Musicians’ Union, the Scottish Artists Union, BECTU, Equity, the Writers’ Guild, Scottish Society of Playwrights and the Society of Authors, warning that cutting arts funding is “the wrong choice at the wrong time.”
Creative Scotland faces having to use £7m from its £17m national lottery reserves to preserve “standstill” funding agreements for 120 companies, venues and organisations over the next 12 months, with huge uncertainty over its future funding.
The alliance of unions has emerged days after the launch of an “emergency” campaign calling on the government to “pull Scotland’s cultural sector back from the brink” by reversing Creative Scotland’s budget cut.
More than 12,000 supporters have already backed an online petition launched by the UK-wide grassroots Campaign for the Arts alliance and backed by Culture Counts, Scotland’s network of arts, heritage and creative industries organisations. It highlights a string of closures in recent months, including the Filmhouse cinemas in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, the Blue Arrow Jazz Club in Glasgow and the Nevis Ensemble street orchestra.
The campaign has won the backing of one of the SNP MSPs bidding to replace Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister.
Ash Regan said: “As FM, I would restore the full funding to Creative Scotland. The pandemic has had a devastating effect on the creative industry and needs further funding, not less.”
The STUC has previously called on the government to use its existing powers to reform tax thresholds in Scotland to raise £1.3billion of additional revenue from this April.
The STUC has warned the government that going ahead with Creative Scotland’s budget cut would put at risk 5000 permanent jobs, along with more than 3500 freelance workers, supported by the 120-strong “regularly-funded organisations” network.
The letter from STUC general secretary Rozanne Foyer states: “We’ve been campaigning for increased support for all workers right across Scotland to receive the urgent assistance they need to survive the cost-of-living emergency.
“Among the most precarious of these are those in our creative industries. They're twice as likely as other workers to be working two jobs and are disproportionately subject to low pay and insecure work. They’ve also been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
"At a time when we should be rebuilding our creative industries, cutting arts funding is the wrong choice at the wrong time. It seems perverse to simply cut funding in this way without any seeming rationale for doing so.”
Ms Foyer told The Scotsman that workers in the creative sector were facing “brutal and swingeing cuts to their livelihoods that threaten the very existence of their workplaces.”
She added: “The Scottish Government can’t – and mustn’t – treat our creative workers as cannon fodder in their pursuit of efficiency savings.”Adam Adnyan, national officer at Equity, said: “Lets be clear, with inflation into double digits, this isn’t a 10 per cent cut to arts funding. It’s much worse than that. These cuts shouldn’t be used to justify low pay offers or the end of stable work.
“We call on the government to revisit these economically illiterate cuts. And we also give fair warning to employers that we will not allow them to use this as an excuse to degrade terms, conditions, or pay offers. No tactic will be off the table.”
Musicians’ Union regional organiser Caroline Sewell said: “Our members and other workers across the creative industries are currently facing a ‘perfect storm’ having been amongst the hardest hit by the pandemic and the least supported.
“This sits within a bleak context of ever-reducing income streams, the impact of Brexit and the cost of living crisis, from which no-one is exempt but particularly those who are already in low-paid, precarious work.
"We urgently need to see the reversal of the proposed cuts to Creative Scotland and long-term, sustainable investment across the arts elsewhere.”
BECTU negotiations officer Paul McManus said: “Many organisations are now facing deficit budgets for the coming year and with that comes the reality of significant job losses, cuts in earnings and venues closing in an industry which is already struggling to cope with a mass exodus of workers who can no longer afford to live off the disgracefully low wages and poor conditions historically prevalent in an industry that creates many millions of pounds in inward investment.”
Peter Arnott, one of Scotland’s leading playwrights, said: “Scottish theatre has never been as culturally weak as it is now.
“Like everyone else, we’ve suffered the multiple shocks of the pandemic and the following recession. Two or three years down the line and no-one is commissioning us for a future that doesn't look like being there.
“We need to arrest the culture of pessimism. The current cuts are disastrous."
Moira Jeffrey, chair of the Culture Counts steering group, said: “Our sector has repeatedly sounded the alarm on the devastating effect this will have on both workers and organisations.
“We remain hopeful that the Scottish Government will reverse the cut, and work with the creative sector to enable our highly skilled workforce to grow and thrive, for the benefit of communities throughout Scotland.”
Campaign for the Arts director Jack Gamble said: “In just a few short days, thousands of people from communities across Scotland have joined our campaign to urge the Scottish Government to think again.
"So much is at stake – not just for those who work in the cultural industries and depend on them for their livelihoods, but for all of us.
"When the arts and culture flourish, we all benefit – personally, socially and economically. Especially now, the arts should be supported, not cut.”
A government spokesman said: “We value the importance of cultural organisations and their contribution to the wellbeing of the country to promote the arts, provide employment and engage with communities across Scotland.
“It is for these reasons, among many others, that we provided £256 million in COVID support funding to help them navigate the challenges brought on by the pandemic.
“However, given the current difficult public expenditure environment, there are significant pressures on funding.
"We’ve provided Creative Scotland with over £33 million over five years to compensate for generally reduced lottery funding. When we’re facing difficult funding decisions, the time is right for Creative Scotland to draw on the lottery reserves available to them.”