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Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee

Meeting date: Thursday, January 18, 2024


Budget Scrutiny 2024-25

The Convener

Welcome back. Our third item is our final evidence session on the budget. We are joined by Angus Robertson, the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, and by Penelope Cooper, who is the director of culture and major events at the Scottish Government. A warm welcome to you both. I invite Mr Robertson to make a brief opening statement.

The Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture (Angus Robertson)

It is always a pleasure to be back at the committee, convener, and thank you for the opportunity to make some opening remarks. First, I would like to thank all the organisations that have given evidence to the committee. I have read and listened to their evidence with great interest. The evidence is clear that, although the budget and our announcement to increase culture funding by £100 million annually by 2028-29 are welcome, there remains a need for longer-term clarity and confidence. I would like to take the opportunity of my opening remarks to provide that.

I recognise that the additional £15.8 million of funding next year will not rectify years of standstill funding. That is only the starting point of a journey of three phases—sustain, develop and innovate—all of which are important aspects that I have heard referenced by the sector in its evidence.

The £15.8 million in the next financial year begins the sustain phase. This is intended to be followed by a further £25 million the year after, with culture budgets £40.8 million higher in 2025-26 than now.

The budget will increase cumulatively until it is £100 million per annum higher by 2028-29. That additional resource allows us to move beyond simply sustaining the sector to developing it in innovative ways to support Scotland’s creative sector and its contribution to our own wellbeing economy and international reputation.

In line with that, I have recently confirmed to Creative Scotland that we will not direct the use of the additional £6.6 million that will be provided to it in 2024-25, although I expect the organisation to use that money to help the sector to recover, to be sustainable and to innovate.

I fully support Creative Scotland’s move towards multiyear funding. As the committee heard last week, that is a critical issue for a lot of, if not most, cultural organisations. I hope that the announcement of the intention to provide an additional £25 million across the culture and arts sector in the next financial year will provide some certainty, and I will continue to argue the case for multiyear funding.

Our refreshed action plan supports delivery of the culture strategy and was published alongside the budget last December. The action plan, which was prepared in close engagement with the sector, including the national partnership for culture, has the ambition to support the sector to move beyond its recovery phase.

As we implement those plans to sustain the sector, we are also defining the work on the development of the culture and arts sector to provide confidence for the future. Scottish Government senior officials and I will be meeting organisations and third sector partners to discuss that.

We will consider all aspects of the sector so that we can support: freelancers, and to attract and retain their talent; community cultural projects in all authorities across Scotland; the national performing companies, so that they can engage and tour with confidence across the country and around the world; festivals, so that they can continue to be world class and contribute to our economy and international reputation; national collections, so that they can innovate and enhance their collections and public experience; the screen sector and its remarkable growth in Scotland, and the opportunities that that brings; the building of resilience and financial stability across the sector; the mainstreaming of culture across Government; and support making progress on participation, with the benefits across public services of health and wellbeing that that brings.


As part of securing the future of the sector, we will explore new funding streams in addition to Scottish Government funding. I am keen to progress consideration of the Scottish National Party’s manifesto commitment to the percentage for the arts scheme and to draw inspiration from international best practice, such as Denmark’s foundation model.

I am aware of the Music Venue Trust’s campaign for a stadium tax to support grass-roots music venues. My colleague the Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development, Christina McKelvie, has encouraged the Music Venue Trust to ask the cross-party group on music to convene an industry round-table discussion on the issue. I look forward to the outcome of that discussion.

I am keen to develop links with key philanthropists in Scotland and globally. I want Government networks internationally to support the export of Scottish culture and the sector’s resilience. Our international culture strategy—which will be published soon—will support that ambition.

As Neil Bibby MSP mentioned last week, the Scottish Government is only part of the public sector funding picture. Many organisations receive money from local authorities. The Scottish Government will work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to ensure that all local authorities understand the important role that culture plays. I look forward to working with partners in COSLA and with individual local authorities on that.

We are at a key turning point in relation to the funding for culture and the arts in Scotland. I acknowledge that I am in a privileged position, because we are restoring our culture budget at a time when other administrations are reducing theirs. I have great ambitions for how the sector should grow and thrive. I want to have more opportunities for people across Scotland to experience the empowering potential of culture, including through our community-based programmes such as the Culture Collective network. I am very focused on delivering those ambitions, which our additional funding allows for.

I want to work with the committee to develop the suggestions that it has to contribute to that exciting opportunity. I invite committee members and cultural organisations to come to me and my officials with ideas and suggestions about how we can fund the sector.

The Convener

Thank you very much, cabinet secretary. Your opening statement answered many of the questions that were asked by cultural organisations last week, so thank you for the clarity on those matters.

You mentioned the percentage for the arts scheme. This week, we have been discussing a visitor levy in the Parliament and the opportunities for local authorities in utilising that. Is there a worry that such levies are seen as fix-alls, and is the expectation of what they might be able to deliver higher than what we can reasonably expect?

Angus Robertson

I do not think that there is a single, silver bullet through any of the different organisations or funding streams to help the Scottish culture and arts sector to thrive in a way that we all agree on.

Having said that, I think it is right that we consider all potential options for supporting the culture and arts sector. We have to acknowledge that other countries are further ahead of us in some respects. The visitor levy is a good example of that. The overwhelming majority of countries across the European Union have a levy, and I am not aware of any evidence that suggests that it has a detriment on tourism spend. Indeed, it has the benefit of bringing in additional funding to municipalities and regions.

Similarly, the percentage for the arts scheme has the potential to provide additional funding, and there are other suggestions that we have discussed in the committee and in the chamber. For example, Mark Ruskell regularly brings up the issue of a tax on tickets as another potential route to gain additional funding. I have thought for quite a while that, in addition to what local and national Government do, we also have an opportunity to work much more closely with people, or the trusts and foundations that they may be involved in, who give money to the sector. I think that we can work much better together with the philanthropic sector domestically and internationally. I look forward to exploring all those things.

As to your point, convener, none of those things provide the single answer to the concerns about the funding situation that the sector has been going through, which we know well, but they could all play a part in the answer to helping it to be as well funded as I hope we all agree that it should be.

Mark Ruskell

I come back to your comments about how the additional £6.6 million will be allocated, and the priorities and themes in relation to that spend. The impression that we got from Creative Scotland last week is that there is to be a discussion with Government about your priorities. In your initial comments, you said that it is up to Creative Scotland to come forward with its priorities, but you also said that you expect a focus on the recovery of the sector, the sustainability of the sector and innovation in the sector. Will you say a bit more about that? It is not a vast amount of money, but where do you expect the focus to be? We hear that all those things are needed, but the creative sector has the potential to address wider societal needs. How much of that can really be developed with £6.6 million?

Angus Robertson

I acknowledge the importance of those funds for Creative Scotland as it goes through the significant funding change to multiyear funding. The Scottish Government is providing public funding to make up for a reduction in national lottery support that was intended to be provided for only three years and has now been extended. Notwithstanding that, I appreciate how important those funds are for Creative Scotland as part of its transitional planning, and to the regularly funded organisations that will form part of the multiyear framework. Those funds are also important for the financial means to support wider parts of the creative and arts sector that will not form part of that multiyear funding approach.

Creative Scotland is right to want to ensure that the transition works well and that there is no cliff edge for the organisations, venues and other projects that it supports. That is why I have been persuaded of the importance of the funding, given that the priorities that I have set out from the Scottish Government’s point of view align with those of Creative Scotland, as a way of ensuring that we make that change.

The previous time that I gave evidence, I drew attention to the fact that the third sector in particular in Scotland has been crying out for that multiyear approach in order to give financial certainty and to reduce the amount of time that is currently spent applying for funding on an annual basis. Creative Scotland is absolutely at the vanguard of that change, which is why the issue of the £6.6 million from the previous financial year came up. We gave a commitment—I gave a commitment at a meeting of this committee—that we would restore that funding. I am delighted to confirm that we are doing what I undertook we would do and that there will be an additional year’s funding of £6.6 million.

It is worth noting that that is significantly more than the national lottery funding shortfall, but notwithstanding that, I accept, agree and value the importance of that funding as part of the transition. To my mind, it falls very much within the phase of sustaining the current arts and culture infrastructure.

As we begin to have more finance in the culture and arts sector, which we have secured because of commitments that were made by the First Minister, agreed by the Deputy First Minister and supported by me for quite a long time, we can then look to the medium term in respect of some of the ambitions that Mr Ruskell has outlined.

However, there is a footnote to that, which I never hesitate to make and that is quite important: Creative Scotland is—quite rightly—an arm’s-length agency, and, as such, it is an organisation with which we agree a general direction of travel. I have outlined our perspective on that, but it is for Creative Scotland to make decisions about all that when it comes to individual projects.

I am pleased, as I know that Creative Scotland is, that there is more money for culture in Scotland this year, which is not the case in other nations in the United Kingdom, and that our financial commitment is significant and will continue to grow cumulatively over the next years.

Mark Ruskell

Thanks for that detailed answer.

Other members might also be interested to come in on this issue, but I want to go back to your comments about the need to find additional sources of revenue. There is a question in my mind about whether there are pots of money that are not being utilised but which could be used to really drive innovation and sustain the cultural sector.

I will raise one source of money in relation to city deals. It is understood that a vast amount of money that has been allocated to the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal remains unspent, and that the value of that money is going down every single year because it remains unspent. Are city deals in particular focused enough on delivering a cultural offering, or are there city deal or other sources of funding that could be utilised to really support and bootstrap the initiatives that you are looking to drive forward with the £6.6 million?

To put that into context, the unallocated spend in the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal is more than £15 million. Therefore, the money in Stirling and Clackmannanshire alone dwarfs the revenue that you are putting into Creative Scotland. It feels as though there are potential sources of revenue out there, but maybe that is just wishful thinking on my part.

Angus Robertson

No. One of the things that I am optimistic and upbeat about is that, given where we have come from—the committee has taken a considerable amount of evidence on that from across the culture sector, which has illustrated the challenges that there have been because of Covid, Covid recovery, the wider economic situation and, yes, past flat budget settlements, in some cases—there is a sense that we need to reimagine how we should approach our support, which is something we agree, across the parties, that we need to do.

That is why I am very keen that we take this opportunity not simply to ask how we are going to use the additional money that is coming and whether we are simply going to apply more resource to support organisations as we have done up until now, but to ask whether we can think in new ways about getting additional resources and whether there are additional ways in which we can support projects that it has not yet been possible to fund.

Forgive me, convener, and tell me to stop if I have made this point to the committee before—I am not sure whether I have. We have organisations—Creative Scotland is at the front of the queue—that have a very talented workforce that assesses projects, organisations and venues for funding. Because of the funding envelope, in certain years, Creative Scotland will be able to fund some but not all those organisations. That is not because there are unworthy of support or venues are unworthy of investment; it is because one has to operate within a funding envelope.

However, in effect, that means that a due diligence process has been gone through that says, “Yes, these are really, really good projects; they just don’t work financially this year.” Therefore, if additional funding can be brought in from elsewhere, why should we not take another look at how the culture infrastructure in Scotland can be supported in areas where there are city deals, at whether the money has been drawn down, at whether there are projects that might fall into the ambit of those deals that have not done so yet, at whether we can support that and at whether we should do more? I am absolutely keen for us to take a look at that—and I am delighted that Penelope Cooper is taking notes. We want to be as imaginative as possible.


I have said this in the chamber and I will say it again, because the outside world, and particularly the sector, is looking: I want to work with people across the committee and across the Parliament, because there is no monopoly of good ideas or common sense.

Regarding suggestions of where additional funding might come from, we have spoken at the committee in the past about the percentage for the arts scheme, the visitor levy and philanthropy. City deals also fall into that basket from which additional support might be available. We must not allow projects to fall by the wayside from one year to the next. We have organisations that do the due diligence and the work on the culture and arts side, as well as in the heritage sector. As committee members know well, we are trying to protect our built and natural heritage, of which we have a lot in Scotland. We are trying to repair and restore many buildings, and there are people who want to support that effort. There are funding streams that can potentially do that, too.

We have an opportunity to think anew. I do not think that we can just carry on as before, so it behoves us all—the Government, Creative Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland and Screen Scotland—to think about how we are doing what we are doing. We should be thinking about what we should be doing more of and what we might do less of or do differently, and now is absolutely the right time for all of us to be thinking in those terms.

Kate Forbes

Some of those who gave evidence previously commented that they were enormously relieved by the budget this year. One comment was about the tension between ensuring that there is resilience and sustainability within the sector and being able to grow and develop and do new and fancy things. How do you approach the question of ensuring that Creative Scotland, for example, can continue to sustain the same organisations—the regularly funded organisations—on an on-going basis, which has been delivered this year, thanks to the budget position, versus taking a risk or a punt on something new?

Angus Robertson

On the point about relief in the sector that we are turning a corner in funding, a significant number of people in the sector have been very kind about the fact that we have been able to secure increased funding for culture while, unfortunately, because of budgetary constraints, that is not the situation elsewhere, in other parts of Government. I am grateful for the support of people in the sector in being able to make their case. It is important that we do everything in our power to ensure that the sector thrives.

On the difference between sustaining and developing, Ms Forbes echoes a point that Donald Cameron made at the previous evidence session that I attended, about organisations that may perform a very important community role but that might not be on a trajectory to be financially self-sustaining. Such organisations may clearly have an important community or wider role to be supported.

I am very alive to this point. There is, indeed, a tension between sustaining what matters—which may or may not be self-sustaining or profitable in a budgetary sense—and developing the sector writ large. I underlined this point in my opening statement, and I am trying to find the wording that I used. I am very keen—as, I know, Creative Scotland is—to consider how we can help cultural and arts organisations to build in the resilience, financial sustainability and, importantly, capacity that they need to thrive.

We can do a lot more of that, because it is different from what Skills Development Scotland or Scottish Enterprise might offer in the wider economy. However, given the experience that we have gone through with the changing nature of society and its interaction with the culture and arts sector, we need to help the sector to manage its room for success more effectively. We need to think anew about how we make that happen. That is where joining up our financial capabilities and additional funding streams will be the answer to Ms Forbes’s conundrum.

Kate Forbes

One other question that is indirectly linked concerns the economic powerhouse of culture. We all know that Scotland faces challenging economic circumstances, and we are looking for anything that gives us a competitive edge. Scotland’s culture does that in international branding, by drawing tourists here and through the role that it can play in some of the hardest-to-reach or more remote areas, such as through the role that MG Alba plays in the Western Isles. Is the increase in funding this year a recognition by the Government of how critical our culture sector is to Scotland’s economic performance?

Angus Robertson

I agree entirely. To take only one example of that, if one needed any evidence for it—we are getting increasing amounts of evidence about the economic impact of the culture sector—one could look at the now-defined benefits of the film and television sector in Scotland. A few years ago, we had little screen sector footprint beyond the BBC, Scottish Television and Channel 4. We have gone to a situation in which the annual gross value added to the economy is now at around £650 million—if the trajectory continues, it will be worth £1 billion by 2030—and the sector provides more than 10,000 jobs. Incidental benefit is also felt. MG Alba was brought up, and we have a screen and broadcasting footprint in the Western Isles and Inverness, especially in the Gaelic language.

That is but one example of the economic impact that culture has. You have had persuasive evidence from the likes of the festivals in Edinburgh. I speak wearing two hats, of course: being the member of the Scottish Parliament for Edinburgh Central, the impact of the festivals is obvious to me. If one looks at the economic role that the festivals play—the artistic and cultural contribution is obvious to all—one sees that their economic value added is massive. Yes, that is about the Edinburgh festivals, but on this of all days, when Celtic Connections is starting in Glasgow, and with festivals furth of the cities as well, we need to have a better understanding of the economic impact of festivals.

We have had some tremendous interventions over recent years that have supported festivals—for example, through the expo and place funds. However, if we look at how festivals are supported in other countries, we can see that it is right and proper that we examine how we support them domestically. That is why I go back to the point that now is the right time for us to look at all of that and how it all fits together. Are we missing anything in our approach? Is there more that we should do? I am open to considering that and working with our culture and arts sector partners on it.

On the specific issue of harder-to-reach geographies and communities—I appreciate that, coming from a Gaelic speaker, that is also a linguistic question—we have done great things in recent years, but undoubtedly there is more that we can do. An organisation that I have mentioned before in evidence is the Culture Collective, which has been able to deliver in slightly more than two thirds of Scotland’s local authorities. I really want us to be able to support its reach right across the whole of the country, given what the organisation is able to do, especially in supporting freelancers, who are in one of the most tenuous positions in relation to income and reliable employment in the culture and arts sector. Supporting funding streams and projects that have already been tried and tested there is, for me, a priority.

I would want to know where we currently do not have that footprint. MSP colleagues regularly raise in Parliament the question of why there is provision in one place and not more in another. We have to test everything that we do to make sure that we are answering all of those questions, and, if there is unmet need and demand, we should be doing everything that we can to make sure that, given the new approach, we are thinking about things from those perspectives as well.

Thank you.

Donald Cameron

Cabinet secretary, you have given some clarity to Mark Ruskell on the £6.6 million that is going to Creative Scotland, but I want to ask about the longer-term funding, such as the pledge of £100 million to culture. There was some evidence last week that the pledge had been made but that only a fraction had been delivered for the budget for 2024-25. Lori Anderson from Culture Counts said:

“a serious amount of investment is needed now, and from within the current budget—not over a five-year period. The money is welcome, but we need it now and our reflection is that the investment does not go far enough, either in amount or pace.”—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 11 January 2024; c 3.]

There was a wider sense of a need for clarity on that long-term pledge. Are you able to give that clarity, and what do you see as the Scottish Government’s priorities for longer-term funding of the culture sector beyond what you have already said? The committee described the situation as a perfect storm: there are both some very immediate pressures and a need to build resilience. What do you see that money going towards in five years’ time?

Angus Robertson

Thank you for the question—there was a lot in there. I understand that everybody who cares about the culture and arts sector wants the maximum financial support as quickly as possible. I get that. I do not think that anybody would not understand why there is that demand. Incidentally, it is not unhelpful for colleagues in the arts and culture sector to underline why it is important to get those resources as quickly as possible. Having said that, any fair-minded person with an understanding of the wider budget constraints would see not only that we have secured a commitment to a very significant uplift within a short number of years—while other portfolio areas are seeing cuts and decline because of the budgetary constraints—but that the situation is favourable in respect of comparative Administrations.

This morning, I had a look at the Welsh Government’s budget lines in such areas, which include the Arts Council of Wales being cut by 8.7 per cent; the National Museums of Wales being cut by 6.3 per cent; Creative Wales, which is the equivalent of Creative Scotland, being cut by 9.9 per cent; and Cadw, which is the Welsh equivalent of Historic Environment Scotland, being cut by 19.7 per cent. We are in a very different situation, because we have a First Minister, a Deputy First Minister and a finance secretary who were persuaded that we need a significant change to the trajectory that we would have continued on were we to have a flat budgetary settlement or a reduction in budget such as we are seeing in Wales or from the UK Government, given the 6 per cent cut to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s budget.

In Scotland, by contrast, the Scottish Government has made a commitment to a significant uplift in funding, has set out a road map of how we want to get there, has made the first commitment for this year and has given an additional commitment for next year of an uplift of an additional £25 million on the way to there being a sustained annual increase of £100 million.


On Mr Cameron’s point about having a sense of priorities within that increasing spending envelope, I have tried to outline my priorities in my opening statement and what I think should be the north star, or the stars that we should be trying to align with as we increase funding, including external funding. We have the intention of the £100 million rise, the rise of over £15 million this year and the commitment to an additional increase of £25 million next year, on top of that £15 million, but, as Mr Cameron knows, we do not budget three or four years ahead. Given everything that we have been talking about in terms of multi-year funding, there is a tension in that, is there not?

I wish to signal my ambition that culture and arts organisations, whether they come within the ambit of Creative Scotland as regularly funded organisations or are national performing companies and national collections, need to have an understanding of what the financial horizon is more than one year in advance. I am very open to thinking about how we can provide that. That underlines the point that I was making, and I would welcome the committee’s input into thinking about how we do that.

We have a relatively blank canvas in relation to the additional funding once we get through the sustained phase—the changes in Creative Scotland’s multi-year funding and the immediate, existential challenges that we have seen to a number of organisations and venues that we were able to safeguard through this year, which has ensured that increased pay settlements in a time of inflation are fully met. Once we are able to move beyond that sustained phase and into the developmental and innovative phase, I want to work in partnership with the sector, the committee, individual MSP colleagues and political parties. I have had meetings with a number of colleagues on that subject.

I do not think that it is for me to say what my plans for year 3 are regarding individual projects before we have the architecture of the next phase, which will involve increased funding, reformed institutions and a reformed approach by the Government and our agencies to how we do things. That will give us an exciting opportunity to be extremely supportive and helpful to the arts and culture sector, because those who work in it deserve it, they should have it and they know that they will have it from me and the Government that I serve in.

Donald Cameron

I want to ask about the Edinburgh festival fringe, which you mentioned. Shona McCarthy of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society outlined to the committee in evidence last week that the fringe festival falls through funding gaps. It receives only £1 million in funding but is credited with bringing in £200 million-worth of investment into Edinburgh. As you noted in your statement, wearing another hat, you are the MSP for the city. Are you committed to retaining Edinburgh’s status as a festival city? The Scottish Government’s funding decisions might suggest otherwise.

Angus Robertson

First off, Edinburgh has a deserved reputation as the festivals capital of the world, and not just because of the decades of festivals that we have had in Scotland’s capital city since 1947. We have seen a growth in the festivals from what was originally just the Edinburgh international festival to the festival fringe and then a further raft of amazing book festivals, children’s festivals and film festivals—I could go on—and I think that it is absolutely right to match the challenge of the question whether we support and fund world-class festivals with the same ambition as those who run them.

That is why I said in my opening statement that one of my key priorities relates to festivals. The question is: are we doing everything we can for them—and here I am quoting myself—to “continue to be world class and contribute to our economy and international reputation”? Is there more that can be done? Absolutely. Mr Cameron will understand that, in relation to the point that has been made by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the fact is that it did not secure regularly funded organisation status from Creative Scotland some time ago. Without wanting to labour the point too much, I have to say that I have always been very cautious about getting involved in individual Creative Scotland funding decisions. However, given that I am signalling that I want us to be thinking about all of these things as we move forward, we have to match our ambitions as a Government, as political parties and as parliamentarians with those of the organisations themselves.

After all, what has changed in recent decades is not just the festivals here, but festivals elsewhere. Edinburgh garnered its international reputation in significant part because it was among the first to have such festivals, but there are other cities in other countries that have tremendous festivals, too. That is a good thing, but we need to do everything we can not to rest on the laurels of seven decades of heritage and history and ensure that we are able to support our festivals. Indeed, I am talking not just about our Edinburgh festivals; as I have pointed out, we have tremendous festivals in our other great cities as well as the rest of the country, and we must ensure that they are properly funded and supported in a number of other ways.

There are other ways in which Government can support these things. I have said to the committee before that I am very keen for our international network—whether it be Scottish Government offices or, wider than that, our Scottish Development International or VisitScotland presence or GlobalScot network—to play a much more active role in promoting our culture sector internationally. That will benefit the festivals, too.

Neil Bibby

Good morning, cabinet secretary. Following on from Donald Cameron’s question, I note that, last week, we heard about the need for urgency as well as clarity. Iain Munro of Creative Scotland said that the focus at the moment is

“to—literally—keep the show on the road and keep the lights on.”

He went on to say:

“Much is at risk, but in the light of the indications from the Scottish Government about the £100 million—as I said, we could spend that several times over, and we want the Government to go further and faster ... —it feels as though we are on the cusp of being able to turn a corner if there is more urgency in how that money is deployed.”—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 11 January 2024; c 39.]

The key phrase there is

“if there is more urgency”.

However, you have not indicated that you are going to go any further in this budget with regard to providing that urgency.

We also heard last week about the need for clarity. Up to now, we have heard that, in 2025-26, the funding will be £25 million as a minimum. However, this morning, you did not mention that the £25 million would be a minimum; you just confirmed that £25 million would be the figure in 2025-26. Can you clarify that?

Angus Robertson

It is in addition to the £15 million-plus in this budget. It is cumulative. What we are saying is that, every year, the funding will be in addition to the money that was committed in the previous year. The figure, therefore, will be £40 million-plus.

My point was that, up until now, there was talk of a minimum of an extra £25 million coming online, but I understand that it is £25 million.

Sorry, but can I stop you there? I have just said that it is £25 million in addition to the £15 million-plus that is being committed in this budget, so it is £40 million-plus.

Yes, but previously the indication was that it would be a minimum of £25 million—

I have just confirmed, again, that it is cumulative, so it is just over £40 million additional.

Neil Bibby

The point that I was going to make is that it would have been a minimum of £40 million if it was more than £25 million.

In terms of the clarity that you are seeking to provide—and which is being called for—you have announced £100 million over the next five years. When can people expect clarity on the amount of money that will be available in 2026-27?

On the one hand, you are saying that you cannot provide clarity on multiyear budgets, but on the other hand, you have announced £100 million over five years, so there is a need for that clarity, at least for 2026-27.

Angus Robertson

I have now said this three or four times, I think, so there should be no doubt about the clarity of the commitment that has been given about the additional £100 million. However, in terms of the route to get there, we are talking about £15.8 million in this budget and an additional £25 million in the following one—so that will be an additional £40.8 million—and then, in the two years after that, the numbers will be dependent on the budget discussions that take place in the usual way.

If I think back to previous discussions, there was a sense of doubt from some colleagues about whether this is a real thing. It really is a real thing. It is not an aspiration. In comparison to other Governments in the United Kingdom, including Labour-run Wales, which has cut its culture funding, we have increased it. Unlike the UK Government, which has cut culture funding this year, we are increasing it.

We have given the commitment—the Deputy First Minister did it in the budget statement—on the £25 million additional in the financial year 2025-26. As soon as I can, I would want to be able to confirm what the subsequent years will deliver.

I totally understand that the sector wants the front loading of funds. It is what I want—absolutely. It is what I argue for internally, and I want this to happen as quickly as possible. It is correct to say—and Iain Munro is absolutely right to say—that what we are able to do this year is very much within the sustain phase of the culture and arts recovery. As we are able to secure the additional cumulative totals that will boost the culture and arts scene, we will be able to support the sector in a much more significant way to develop and innovate.

Neil Bibby

On that, the Government has pointed to an increase in this budget, as it has done on a number of occasions. However, we know that the culture budget was cut last year, and we also know that the culture budget is 6 per cent smaller in real terms than it was in 2022-23.

We heard concerns last week about the future of organisations in the current funding crisis—you will have heard that as well. We have also heard time and again about cultural provision having to be cut back. I think that there has been a mixed response to the budget as a result of those figures. Sam Dunkley of the Musicians Union said:

“Unfortunately, I am not sure that the additional funding announced in the budget—as welcome as it is—will have the impact that we need it to have.”—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 11 January 2024; c 11.]

The Scottish household survey talks about a reduction in cultural participation and cultural activity. You have rightly talked about the importance of equal access to culture and of sustaining cultural provision. Again, I agree with those points. We are hearing concerns from the sector that cultural provision will not be sustained at current levels. You are talking about the importance of sustaining it at current levels, and I agree with that. The question is, will this budget sustain cultural activities and participation at current levels?

Angus Robertson

I totally understand the question that Mr Bibby is asking and that is being asked by people in the wider culture and arts sector who, understandably, want maximum resource as quickly as possible in order for the sector to thrive.


However, we need to understand the budgetary constraints that the Scottish Government is operating under and the relative priority that has been attached to culture and the arts. Therefore, in comparison with, and in contrast to, other Governments in the United Kingdom, we are increasing culture spending. That is important not just as a down payment on the significant increase that has been committed to for culture and the arts; given the actual cuts that are taking place elsewhere, it gives Creative Scotland, among others, the significant means to help us through the sustain period.

Do I acknowledge that there are venues and organisations that will continue to be in financial distress and that will require support over the coming financial year before additional funding is in place? Yes, I do. Can Government and Government agencies do more? Yes, absolutely. Having said that, let us look at specific examples of venues or events—some are in the public realm and some are not—that have had significant support from Creative Scotland or Screen Scotland. Let us look at the Filmhouse or the Edinburgh International Film Festival and others; let us look at the support that we are providing to V&A Dundee. We are intervening, whether as the Scottish Government, Creative Scotland, Screen Scotland or other agencies, to try to get through this sustain period. I am absolutely focused on our being able to do that.

Would I, as cabinet secretary, like to have the additional £100 million in the coming financial year? Yes, absolutely. However, we have been able to secure additional culture funding while other Governments have been cutting it. We have secured additional commitments from the Government on what will be provided next year as cumulative additional support for culture and the arts and I will work tirelessly—as will my officials, Creative Scotland and other agencies—to make sure that we get through this sustain period where there is financial distress, until we are in a position with additional funding but also a renewed approach to culture and the arts, administratively and, yes, financially, to ensure that it is thriving, as everyone hopes that it will.

Neil Bibby

If we want to sustain culture and cultural activity and participation, it is important that we ensure that the right resource—whatever that is—is in place. I am interested to know whether the Government has carried out an assessment of this budget and how it will impact jobs, venues and cultural participation and activity. I say that because the committee heard evidence last week from Fran Hegyi of the Edinburgh International Festival about the need for levels of investment to

“match the level of ambition”.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that the committee has carried out a culture in communities inquiry. Lori Anderson from Culture Counts told us that

“Since the committee conducted its pre-budget scrutiny, Community Leisure UK has conducted a survey of its membership. It reported that 60 per cent of Scottish members are facing a budget deficit”

and that

“29 per cent of members are preparing for closures”.—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 11 January 2024; c 19, 23.]

At a local level, we know that 83 community facilities, including dozens of libraries, have closed between 2009 and 2020 and that, for example, there has been a 16 per cent cut in funding over that period in library spend by local councils, and we know how significant that is. Earlier, you said that you want to speak with COSLA to ensure that it understands the important role that culture plays. I am sure that it is well aware of that important role, but its funding has been cut and cut and its core revenue funding is set to be cut again, by £63 million.

Therefore, in the important interests of sustaining cultural services, in addition to the national organisations sustaining their culture services under the current settlement, how do you expect councils to sustain cultural venues and keep them open, when so many are at threat of closure and when councils’ funding is being cut?

Angus Robertson

We need to be fully aware that the support of culture is not just the responsibility of the Scottish Government and Scottish Government agencies. Working in partnership with local government colleagues will be key in moving forward on that. Yes, it is about venues and yes, it is about projects. One could point to the likes of Sistema as an example. We are keen to see access to culture through tremendous projects such as Sistema.

Local authorities take a risk when they no longer continue to fund organisations, venues or facilities, and that is something that I want to talk about with local authority partners. My colleague Christina McKelvie has already held discussions with culture leads and I will meet the president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities next week when we are both in Brussels—these are the kinds of things that we will talk about.

It is only by working in partnership that we will be able to get ourselves through the sustain phase and into the better funding scenario that we are moving towards. It is only by taking a partnership approach that we will see the success that we want to see right across the country. I have not met a single person in local government who does not want there to be excellent cultural provision in their local government area. That relationship will be key.

I am sure that my colleagues with finance responsibilities would point to the funding and support that has been given to local government so that decisions can be made at a local level while we have responsibility for the things that we support at a national level. However, it is only by working together that we will be able to get through this phase and into the next, and I look forward to doing that with COSLA and colleagues at individual councils.

I am a wee bit conscious of the time because we also have a private agenda item this morning, but I will move to questions from Mr Stewart.

Alexander Stewart

Good morning, cabinet secretary. The increased money is definitely welcome, as are your ambitions to sustain, develop and innovate. Those are fundamental—there is no question about that at all. However, the committee has heard in evidence criticism from stakeholders that there is a misalignment between the Scottish Government’s culture strategy and the funding that the sector receives. There does not seem to be a clear sense of how the strategy informs the budget process. Do you accept that criticism from the sector?

You have said that we cannot continue in the way that we are and that we need to be thinking about change. I do not disagree with any of the potential opportunities that you have talked about regarding how we could change and develop the sector and support it for the future. However, we already know, and you have said today, that local government does not always have the priority, the need and the financial resource. It might have the ambition, but it might not be able to fulfil it without there being a much more strategic approach to how the culture strategy and the budgetary decisions are managed together.

Angus Robertson

I am delighted by Mr Stewart’s welcome for the additional funding, because we all have a role to play in helping to give the sector confidence about where we are going and how we are going to get there. The challenge of making that happen as expeditiously as possible, so that it is in alignment with strategies, plans and ambitions, is absolutely at the heart of where my thinking is. There is no doubt that I will be back before the committee and I will be asked repeatedly about all that.

There is always a question about matching strategies and plans with the ability to deliver on that trajectory. One would have to have had one’s head in the sand to not understand that devolved Government is, this year, in the most distressed financial situation since the beginning of devolution. This is not a uniquely Scottish situation. My Welsh colleague or my Northern Irish colleague, were there one in place at the present time, would say exactly the same thing. Short of opening up a discussion about UK funding and the ability of the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Irish Executive to deal with spending constraints—which is not the role of this morning’s meeting—we have to deal with the constraints that we have.

Although, as I have said a number of times, I totally understand people saying that they need at once the funding that has been committed to, all fair-minded people who realise that we are one of the limited areas of Government that has been able to secure additional funding will appreciate that the down payment has been made on that additional funding, and that I will be working night and day to make sure that we maximise the committed funding as quickly as we possibly can. We want to deliver on these strategies and plans, and on the ambition that we all have to have a thriving culture sector.

Mr Stewart, like Mr Bibby earlier, is absolutely right to say that it is only by partnership working with local government, the agencies that are involved and other partners that we can ensure that there is no misalignment. I am confident that we can do that. There is enormous goodwill out there. There is a very good working relationship between Government, its agencies and the sector. There are regular round-table discussions and meetings. We are very well informed about what people’s needs, interests, concerns and expectations are.

We also work very hard to ensure that we understand where there is financial distress and to work out where we could and should intervene to ensure that we are sustaining the culture and arts footprint in Scotland. We are also moving on to the next stage of how we can help people to succeed.

I am grateful for the welcome. I agree that we want to make sure that we have the funding to match the ambition. There have been very public commitments made by the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister, the finance minister and me. I gave commitments to the committee and I have fulfilled them for the forthcoming financial year in relation to Creative Scotland—doubt was cast on that happening. I am delighted that we are delivering exactly on the commitments that we gave. In exactly the same way, we will deliver on the commitments that we have made to the uplift in culture spending.

I want to go beyond that. Forgive me if I have already told this vignette, but I met last summer with the Danish culture minister—my opposite number—and we talked about the funding of culture in Denmark. He talked about the significant amount of funding that is allocated by Government. He then went on to talk about the amount of money that was disbursed across the arts and culture sector through foundations. In Denmark, the law says that companies of a certain size have to have a foundation, and they have a requirement to support, among other things, culture and the arts. Large Danish companies, such as Carlsberg or Maersk, have foundations that support culture and the arts. The amount of money that they are able to inject in addition to Government resources is eye-watering. That is why I mentioned in my opening statement that we need to look at other countries and places that have well-established ways of making sure that one is fulfilling strategy, plans, ambitions and all the rest of it, as quickly as we can.

I have said before and I will say again that people should please share any ideas that they have with the committee, me, officials, Creative Scotland and others. There is an open door; we are in this together. It is the country’s culture and arts sector. Government does not do culture, but it has the ability to help, support, convene and finance it. We will do as much as we can, but there is co-ownership in making sure that, together with the sector, we are in the place that we want to be.


Keith Brown

I do not think that there is a shared understanding in the sector of the financial pressures—or in this committee, either, by the way. As for the examples that have been mentioned, I would just note that the last one, about Denmark, came up at a previous meeting when I asked representatives of the sector to come back with meaningful comparisons, not with independent countries, which have fewer constraints on their budgets, but with devolved Administrations. I should say that, so far, I have had no response from the sector to my question.

You have mentioned the constructive relationships with different partners in the sector, but I am not sure that I have seen that with Creative Scotland. Perhaps I can get your view on a couple of points. First, as I mentioned last week to Creative Scotland, I attended an event with the culture minister just before Christmas at which the Creative Scotland representative felt it necessary to publicly lambast the Scottish Government to the hundreds of people who were attending the meeting. I would also note the contrast between the press release that was put out by Creative Scotland on what it termed the £6.6 million cut—which as we now know is for backfilling a shortfall in national lottery funding—and the fact that its reinstatement last week was passed with virtually no comment. I think that there is a real issue with Creative Scotland’s approach to the Government.

I am sure that the cabinet secretary will say that the relationship is very constructive, but all I will say is that that is not the evidence that I have seen. Is he aware of any tensions with Creative Scotland?

Angus Robertson

I have always taken the view that it is really important to try to understand the perspectives of different people in different organisations. In this case, I see Creative Scotland demonstrating the demand in the culture and arts sector. If you ask organisations in that sector, “How much money would you like, in an ideal world?”, you will get a massive total, and what that illustrates for an organisation such as Creative Scotland is that it would like the maximum possible funding settlement. I understand that—that is what it wants. I understand that, whether it be Creative Scotland, individual organisations, venues or whatever, people who are receiving support either directly from the Government or through agencies need to illustrate the extremity of the situation as a way of securing support—and the situation is, indeed, very challenging.

The first thing that I would like to say, then, is that I understand why Creative Scotland and its board members are very keen to ensure that they have the funding to get through the massive change programme required for multiyear funding. That is why I was very empathetic in my opening statement and in my answers to the committee’s initial questions about what is being done at present. I work very well with Iain Munro and colleagues at Creative Scotland; I work very well with Isabel Davis and colleagues at Screen Scotland; and I can say the same for Historic Environment Scotland, our national collections and our national performing arts companies. I do not have a problem with any of that.

Is there what one might call a creative tension here, given the very nature of the process? The Scottish Government dispenses funds and organisations that receive them want as much as possible—I understand that. Given the constraints, people have wanted to gain public understanding as well as an understanding in Government of the requirement for money.

I definitely agree, though, that there is a profound lack of understanding about the extent of the financial constraint on devolved Administrations in the United Kingdom. It is unprecedented, and I have not heard a single person, whether it be a member of the Scottish Parliament, someone from an agency, a journalist or anybody else, contribute any suggestion as to where, this year, any additional means that one might want would come from. Nobody, but nobody, has come up with a suggestion on that front—not one.

This year, we have been able to make the case internally for a down payment on additional funding going forward, and no doubt everyone in receipt of funding will want to ensure that they get a part of that. I have talked at some length—and no doubt, convener, you will have me back to talk about it again—about how this new approach will work from the perspective of the Government, our agencies and beyond. We will have to be in a new place. I am working with the people in Creative Scotland and other agencies on the basis of trust and I am confident that we have a trust that is good enough to be able to deliver all that.

Keith Brown

I understand what the cabinet secretary is saying but, from my point of view, the idea of trust, consistency and honesty on the part of Creative Scotland is an issue.

My second point relates to the cabinet secretary’s point about new sources of finance. I raised the issue of innovation, which I have not seen much evidence of, except for the V&A in Dundee. I was assured that it would get back in touch with ideas, and some of those have come back in, to be fair—I have yet to read them.

I know that time is very short so, rather than ask a question about that, I will very cheekily ask the question that I asked the BBC earlier. Does the Scottish Government support the allocation of the status of crown jewels to the carrying of live Scottish national football matches in Scotland?

Angus Robertson

Speaking for myself, I find it very hard to understand why we do not have national sporting matches—in this case, football—on our public broadcasters. I cannot understand why that is not the case. Why do people need to subscribe to channels that they have never heard of and pay money to watch their national team perform, particularly when it is doing as well as it is? It is beyond me. The difference in the BBC’s approach to the coverage of England, in particular, is there for everybody to see. Why is that? I do not understand that. I say that as the cabinet secretary for culture—sport is an important part of our national culture.

Frankly, it behoves our public sector broadcasters to look at the coverage of our national sports and to ask why we would treat one nation in the UK differently to others in that respect. I think that we know the reason for that, but to me that is not an excuse for ignoring the coverage of Scotland football matches.

This needs to be your final question, Mr Bibby—a really small question, please, and a really succinct one.

Neil Bibby

It is a very small question. The cabinet secretary said that he had not heard any suggestions from Opposition MSPs about how money could be better spent in order to reallocate money into the culture portfolio. He will be aware of the concerns of Opposition MSPs in relation to the amount of money his department is spending on independence white papers, which are not even convincing the Scottish National Party of the case for independence. I remind him of that alternative proposal for money which has been made to him.

That is more of a suggestion than a question, but please be succinct in your response, cabinet secretary.

Angus Robertson

First, that is not a sensible suggestion, given that a majority has been elected to the Scottish Parliament with a mandate to pursue Scotland’s independence. Secondly, in the grand scheme of the budgets that we are talking about, the amount is minute and it would make absolutely no serious contribution whatsoever to the scale of the funding challenge that we have as devolved Scotland. If that is the limit of ambition in relation to being able to reallocate money and deliver public services in Scotland, we are in real trouble.

You said that you had not had any suggestions.

The Convener

We need to bring proceedings to a close. Cabinet secretary and Ms Cooper, thank you very much for your attendance. I ask you to please vacate the room quickly, as we have another agenda item and we will be moving as quickly as we can to that. Thank you.

11:23 Meeting continued in private until 11:30.