Arts and culture are more important than ever to Scotland’s communities in the midst of the economic downturn
With severe budgetary pressures pinching local authorities across Scotland and increasing demand for services, often something has to give. Unfortunately, cultural projects can be the casualties of the economic downturn. In February last year, Scotland’s National Centre for Excellence in Traditional Music looked set to close after Highland Council voted to withdraw £300,000 in annual funding. The move sparked controversy, with an online petition gathering more than 9,000 signatures in a bid to save the Plockton school. High-profile figures such as former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell, who plays the bagpipes, joined the campaign. At the time, the council said alternative funding would be sought for the school. However, this cultural story had a happy ending. In March 2011, the Scottish Government stepped in and confirmed the future of the school was secured until 2015 through a new funding package. The centre now works in partnership with West Highland College in Fort William.
Ringfencing of funding in local government was abolished as part of the Concordat between councils and the Scottish Government.
While not suggesting that ringfencing should be reintroduced, during a recent Scottish Parliament debate, former culture minister, Patricia Ferguson, mooted the idea of rewarding councils which champion the arts.
Speaking to Holyrood, the Labour MSP said: “I think local authorities have a really important role to play in delivering culture and I applaud the work that many of our local authorities [do].
I want to see that role grow in strength and it’s a false economy not to be involved in culture because it is so important in making an area as dynamic, outgoing and as interesting as it can be, both for people who might want to relocate and for tourists, who are increasingly coming to Scotland for what we have to offer in terms of culture.
“I have a worry that when budgets are tight and money is in short supply, culture is seen as a soft touch given the kind of stark choices that local authorities face. I can understand why that might be a temptation. I started thinking about the whole issue of local authority funding. I thought it was worth thinking about whether any consideration could be given to the idea of incentivising local authorities so we don’t see massive cuts in culture and arts budgets or if we don’t incentivise them up front, we could reward those who are doing well.
“Local authorities do a fantastic job overall in providing opportunities for people to experience culture and I don’t want to see that diminish.
I want to see it increase because it helps the economy of an area to flourish.” Scotland’s arts agency, Creative Scotland said it works closely with VOCAL, the national association for local authority culture and leisure managers, and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, as well as partnering individual councils on investment in Scotland’s key cultural infrastructure and specific programmes. While times are tough, the agency believes the outlook is not all bleak.
A Creative Scotland spokesperson said: “Many local authorities will be returning to work after the recent local elections with new, coalition partners or priorities across a number of areas. Undoubtedly there is pressure on budgets, but there is no single approach – some local authorities may reduce grant in aid to arts organisations, or will reduce their own staffing in arts development. More positively, other councils have maintained their investment and their ambition – Glasgow is fully committed to an engaging creative programme to support the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and, in Dundee, there is both ambition and commitment to the existing cultural infrastructure, as well as looking forward to the new V & A Museum for the city.
“We partner all of Scotland’s local authorities through the Youth Music Initiative and there are many examples of excellent practice and innovation, for example, East Lothian’s mini ‘touring network’, which allows young bands to gain experience of playing live in front of audiences within the local authority.
“Dumfries and Galloway Council has invested time and resource into supporting the Spring Fling, which opens artists’ studios across the region and invites the public to see at close hand the work of their local artists – this not only builds a greater understanding amongst the local community of the ‘creative processes’ that go into artists’ work, which builds pride and confidence in the local creative community, but also promotes the work of the artists to visitors and others, which helps to build new streams of income.
“Many local authorities rightly place increased participation in the arts at the heart of their strategy – notable projects include Glasgow City Council’s support for Dancing Voices 2012, a major new project that will bring together over a hundred older dancers as well as two choirs to perform a brand new work at the Merchant City Festival this July 2012.” Responding to Ferguson’s idea, the organisation said it was “an interesting idea and one which merits a further discussion”.
The spokesperson added: “Creative Scotland is already investing in the Creative Place Awards, which recognise and celebrate the contribution that places of differing population sizes make to ‘a creative Scotland.’ Earlier this year, Wigtown, West Kilbride and St Andrews were each awarded £50,000, £100,000 and £150,000 respectively, to allow them to further develop their creative capacity, to benefit their communities and attract more visitors.
The Creative Place Awards are a three-year programme and the 2013 shortlist will be announced in the autumn. The closing date is 20 July – so there is still time for Scotland’s creative places to get their applications in.” In terms of local-government funding, councils maintained their share of the Scottish budget in 2011/12, and the Scottish Government said by the end of the spending review period, local government’s share of the Scottish Budget will be higher than it was in 2007/08.
A Scottish Government spokesman added: “Local authorities are independent corporate bodies. As such, having first met their statutory duties and the priorities jointly agreed with Scottish Government, they are responsible for the allocation of their resources to local priorities as they see fit. The Scottish Government works closely with VOCAL, Scotland’s national association for local authority culture and leisure managers, to support the local authority sector to continue to improve and to maintain cultural service provision.
“Local authorities also have opportunities to access support through centrally funded organisations such as Creative Scotland and the national performing companies. Creative Scotland’s Place Partnership programme, for example, provides targeted support to five local authorities per year, aiming to understand the shared issues surrounding investment in the arts and creative industries and identify the particular roles of each place in contributing to the development of a creative Scotland.
And through the Creative Places programme, several communities have been awarded funding through Creative Scotland, to celebrate and support a range of cultural activities. There are also opportunities for local authorities to get involved in national cultural events such as the cultural offer around London 2012 and the Year of Creative Scotland.”.
Renowned throughout the world as a leading arts city, Edinburgh is busy throughout the year with festivals and events. While locals might complain that tourists clog up the city’s streets during the summer months, none can deny the festivals make the city a more pleasant and vibrant place in which to live.
Councillor Steve Cardownie, City of Edinburgh Council’s festivals and events champion, said: “The festivals and our packed events programme truly are the lifeblood of Scotland’s capital city. These high-profile cultural and sporting celebrations put Edinburgh in the international spotlight while enriching the lives and cultural experience of our residents.
The festivals are a great source of civic pride, both locally and nationally, and they are a boost to the city’s economy to the tune of £250m annually, as well as being integral to our award-winning quality of life.”.
Dundee, once known for the less than glamorous jam, jute and journalism, is reinventing itself as a hub for the arts. While other parts of Scotland grapple with the implications of the economic downturn, Dundee is in the grip of a cultural revolution. Its greatest endorsement came when the V&A chose the city as the location for its first dedicated museum outside London. The prestigious attraction, which is expected to open in 2015, will be at the heart of Dundee’s ambitious waterfront redevelopment, and a catalyst for the wider regeneration of the city. Dundee is an example of a city on the move, and the arts play a huge part in this.