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Meeting date: Thursday, December 9, 2021

Meeting of the Parliament 09 December 2021

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Human Rights Day 2021, Portfolio Question Time, Culture, Budget 2022-23, Decision Time


Contents


Culture

The next item of business is a statement by Jenny Gilruth on supporting culture in Scotland. The minister will take questions on the issues raised in her statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

14:52  

We will soon hear from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy on the Scottish Government’s budget for the coming financial year. Supporting our economic recovery is absolutely vital to our continued navigation out of the Covid pandemic, but there can be no economic recovery without our culture sector.

Many of us will recall how it felt to experience culture again at the end of the second lockdown. There were emotional scenes as people returned to our museums and galleries and as musicians and actors returned to the stage. Supporting Scotland’s culture sector to recover and ensuring that access to culture is equitable have never been more important.

The culture sector was one of the parts of our society that was worst impacted by pandemic restrictions. Following the initial lockdown, the gross domestic product of the arts, culture and recreation sector was found in May 2020 to have decreased by 56 per cent below pre-pandemic levels. The sector has still not fully recovered, with the latest statistics for September of this year showing that GDP for the sector was still 12 per cent lower than pre-pandemic levels, compared with a reduction of just 1 per cent for the economy overall.

Our museums closed, our theatres shut and live music could no longer be experienced, but the pandemic has also shown the incredible ingenuity of Scotland’s culture sector. That resilience has been the overarching theme of my meetings with the sector since May. Whether by digitising content or by ventilating premises, the sector kept going. Our support to digitise content included the creative digital initiative, which was supported by £1 million of Scottish Government funding. That funding supported creative and cultural businesses to enhance creative opportunities as they responded to Covid-19.

Nonetheless, there remain challenges for the sector as it continues re-emerging from the pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, the Scottish Government has provided more than £175 million of emergency funding to the culture sector, far in excess of the £97 million of culture consequentials that we received from the United Kingdom Government. That support has been a lifeline to our freelancers, venues and organisations. The funding has allowed libraries to re-open, supported artists to keep working, enabled community cultural activities to continue and has helped protect children’s wellbeing through creative learning.

However, the withholding of funding by the United Kingdom Government is placing Scottish artists and cultural organisations at a significant disadvantage compared with their counterparts elsewhere in the UK.

The UK Government has recently made further announcements on the allocations in England from the £300 million of cultural recovery funding that was announced in the March budget. Scotland’s culture sector, meanwhile, still awaits its full share of Barnett consequentials.

As the omicron variant continues to make its way through our population, I know that there is a real sense of anxiety in the culture sector. The pandemic has also presented challenges in the form of human behaviour, which has naturally adapted in light of the restrictions. Audience confidence has been affected. Indeed, as the event industry advisory group told me recently, the current percentages for no-shows at events are far higher than the percentages pre-pandemic. In some instances, they are up to 40 per cent.

The Scottish Government’s business ventilation fund, which launched last month, provides some assistance in that space, allowing audiences to feel safer as they return to live events. The Covid vaccination certification scheme has also given event organisers in Scotland a level of certainty since its introduction. It is certainly welcome that the UK Government is now following suit. The scheme has allowed events to continue and it has further encouraged and supported audience confidence.

However, the impacts of the pandemic have additionally been magnified by the impacts that have been created following the Brexit deal that was negotiated by the UK Government last year. The ending of free movement and the loss of key EU programmes such as the creative Europe programme have only exacerbated the challenges that were initiated by Covid.

The trade and co-operation agreement does not contain visa-free mobility arrangements, which means that creative professionals now have to navigate differing visa requirements and exemptions, with significant increased costs and red tape. The Scottish Government has funded Arts Infopoint, which is a pilot mobility scheme that helps to provide advice on visa applications, tax and social security, but there is of course a limit on what we can do in this space. I raised the matter on two occasions with the former culture minister in the UK Government, and I know that the other devolved Governments have done likewise. The obvious solution is for the UK Government to negotiate a visa waiver agreement to allow visa-free touring for musicians.

In June this year, further funding of £25 million was announced to support further rounds of the culture organisations and venues recovery fund and the performing arts venues relief fund. That included £700,000 for the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, £238,000 for the Beacon Arts Centre in Inverclyde and £1.25 million for Aberdeen Performing Arts. The support that Government had to—to put it bluntly—get out the door back in May was absolutely crucial and I know that it prevented many organisations from going to the wall. The support that the Government must provide now needs to better reflect our new landscape.

Yesterday, the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture announced funding for Kelvin Hall in Glasgow, where we have invested £7.9 million in a £12 million project. That significant investment in the screen sector is helping Scotland to seize opportunities and build sustainable Scotland-based film and television businesses. It is not only about creating state-of-the-art facilities; it is about developing and retaining new skills and talent here in Scotland so that we can make even more high-quality productions right here.

I am really pleased to announce today that further spend to support the culture sector’s recovery will be made in three distinct areas. First, over £4 million of the remaining culture consequentials will be provided to support our innovative culture collective programme. For example, Stellar Quines is creating four creative hubs across Fife to deliver Young Quines, which is a free-to-access youth theatre activity for young women.

That additional funding will support the creative communities network to build its capacity and extend into new communities, but it will also continue to embed the links that were developed during the programme’s first year. The funding recognises the need to provide direct support to our communities and it reinforces the central vision of our culture strategy, which is that culture is for everyone. On that note, I was really pleased to meet the culture conveners group earlier this week to hear directly about the challenges and opportunities that investing in culture in our communities can bring. I hope that the funding will be welcomed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and I look forward to working with the culture conveners group to further ensure that recovery is rooted in community accessibility.

The second amount of funding relates to the museums and galleries sector, and developing its resilience. A £1 million fund will now be available to support that work. I know that, particularly for many smaller organisations, investments in this area can make a real difference. The funding is going to help with equipment and adaptations that help to respond to the pandemic and it will also restart activity as our cultural venues continue to welcome back audiences and visitors.

Thirdly, I will provide £1 million of capital funding in this financial year to support the re-establishment of the Scottish Crannog Centre in Kenmore as part of an overall package of £2.3 million for it to relocate to a new site following the terrible fire at the centre in May. The crannog is a very special place that is not just a site of significant archaeological interest but a community, an educational outreach base and part of the cultural landscape that tells this country’s story.

I do not think that I will ever forget being able to hold a piece of fabric that dates from the iron age when I visited earlier this year. I know that the fire caused not only devastation to the site itself, but significant emotional distress to employees and local people alike. I hope that the funding goes some way to assuring the impassioned director, Mike Benson, and all in the Crannog community that the Scottish Government recognises and values the special role that the centre holds in Scotland’s cultural heritage.

Despite the devastating impact of the pandemic, culture, creativity and heritage played a vital role in people’s lives during lockdown. When none of us could leave our homes, we could, at least, still experience culture. The wellbeing impacts associated with culture—whether from listening to music or reading a book—cannot be underplayed in our recovery from the pandemic. On that note, I want to mention just a few of the many examples of where, with our support, cultural organisations have harnessed the power of creativity to address social isolation and mental health during the pandemic.

The National Theatre of Scotland has been tackling social isolation by supporting the cultural and social rights of the LGBTI+ over-50s group and have run a programme aimed at tackling anxiety in teenagers. Scottish Ballet has delivered dance programmes tackling mental health and wellbeing for healthcare staff and primary and secondary school pupils. National Museums of Scotland provided tailored programming for those living with dementia. Our support for the arts alive programme, run by the Scottish Book Trust, and Sistema Scotland’s big noise programme, has been making a difference to the confidence, resilience and happiness of thousands of schoolchildren across Scotland.

Our national performing companies moved quickly to pivot to their new virtual audiences. Those companies included the National Theatre of Scotland, which recently launched its digital education platform. The platform is an online resource bank for secondary school teachers and students that offers free digital access to NTS productions and resources, ensuring that every young person can now experience an NTS production.

Supporting the culture sector’s recovery from the pandemic is not a job just for me or the cabinet secretary, because culture impacts on and intersects with every part of Government responsibility. Last month, a Cabinet paper was agreed to that sets out the next steps for how we plan to drive that recovery. In education, health, economic development and net zero, culture has a key role to play in our recovery, and investing in culture can help to deliver wider wellbeing outcomes as we move towards a wellbeing economy. I look forward to working with ministerial colleagues as we bring those plans forward.

As I mentioned, culture—reading books, listening to music and even watching the television—helped many of us through the pandemic. Now it is time to ensure that Government helps culture by delivering a sustainable recovery for all. Volkan Bozkir, president of the United Nations General Assembly, observed:

“As we look to recover from Covid-19, we must simultaneously draw upon the skills of those in the creative sphere and ensure that no artist or cultural profession is left behind”.

From our festivals to our libraries, from our theatres to our castles, this Government is committed to delivering an equitable cultural recovery, for the benefit of the people of Scotland.

The minister will now take questions on the issues raised in her statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for questions, after which we will move to the next item of business. It would be helpful, as ever, if members who wish to ask a question could press their request-to-speak buttons now or as soon as possible.

I thank the minister for advance sight of her statement. The pandemic has clearly had an impact across our economy and it is clear that the culture sector has perhaps faced some of the greatest hardships: theatres unable to open, artists and musicians unable to perform, and in every part of Scotland, the curtain has come down on too many local venues.

The Scottish Conservatives acknowledge the additional funding for the sector that has been announced today. Frankly, the sector needs all the help that it can get, but it is not just funding that is needed to support the arts through this phase of the pandemic. The sector needs practical advice and support, too. Productions are being forced to change or close at the last minute, which can be a real issue for many smaller companies across the country.

Although the new funding is welcome, we know that cultural organisations have reported that sometimes it takes too long for funding to reach them when it is needed. Having met various groups, I feel that the Creative Scotland application process is hard to navigate. What can the Scottish Government do to streamline the process and protect those companies that could go to the wall if funding is not delivered quickly enough?

Sharon Dowey raises a number of important issues. On the economic impact, which I touched on in my opening statement, we need to be cognisant of the fact that the economics of where we are as a country have really impacted on the culture sector in ways that they have not impacted on other parts of our society, which were able to reopen fully even at the start of this year.

In May this year, after the election, theatres were still in a level of lockdown, and there were still restrictions relating to social distancing, which had an impact on the number of people that theatres could accommodate. There was a real challenge there in May.

I do not think that the same challenge exists now. The challenge is different, but we need to be very much alive to the risks that new variants present to the sector. I am very conscious of that in my regular dealings with the sector.

Sharon Dowey mentioned practical advice and support to organisations. As she will know, funding is primarily administered via Creative Scotland, and not directly from Government. If there is an issue around funding not getting to those organisations quickly, I would be keen to raise it with Creative Scotland. In fact, I am meeting Creative Scotland tomorrow, so I will raise that hugely important issue with it on Sharon Dowey’s behalf. We had an issue back in May around accessing funding and ensuring that it could be delivered quickly, which we managed to resolve, but I acknowledge some of the challenges that Sharon Dowey speaks to.

On engagement more broadly, I spend a lot of my time, as minister, speaking to the event industry advisory group that I mentioned, which is not shy about telling me where the challenges are at the moment with regard to our recovery from the pandemic. I suppose that it is a note of reassurance to Sharon Dowey that that engagement very much continues. That is vital, because we face an increasingly challenging time with the pandemic and the changing nature of the virus. If there are organisations that Sharon Dowey would like to make me aware of, or organisations that would like direct engagement with Government, I am more than happy to give my time to them, because I recognise the challenge, and the need for on-going support and the practical advice that Sharon Dowey spoke to in her question.

I, too, thank the minister for advance sight of her statement. I agree with the importance of funding to support our culture sector, our venues and those who work in the sector. However, will the minister acknowledge the huge impact on cultural venues and organisations of the requirement to draw down their reserves before they qualified for Scottish Government funding during the pandemic? Those organisations are now under massive pressure, given the length of time that they were unable to operate—which the minister has acknowledged—and the long financial shadow that Covid-19 has cast over their capacity to recover and get back to where they were pre-Covid. What financial support can she offer them today?

I also agree that culture is critical to our collective wellbeing. Will the minister commit to offering the same support and recognition that she has offered to Arts Culture Health and Wellbeing Scotland to develop, to the arts in education recovery group to support those who have worked tirelessly throughout Covid to ensure that young people have access to cultural experiences?

Finally, will the minister consider arts prescribing to help people to recover from Covid? As she mentioned, we have some great programmes, but do we not need everyone to be able to benefit from the arts, when they need it mentally, regardless of where they live, to promote our collective health and wellbeing going forward?

Sarah Boyack touched on a number of issues, which I will try to respond to in detail.

Ms Boyack’s first point related to venues drawing down on their own reserves before they were able to access funding. She will acknowledge some of the challenges that the Government faced at the beginning of the pandemic, and the financial situation in which we found ourselves. Nonetheless, I take her point. The support that the Scottish Government has been able to provide to the culture, heritage and events sector, which is more than £175 million, is, as I mentioned, far in excess of the £97 million of consequentials that we received from the UK Government. There is an outstanding question about those consequentials, which have been delivered to cultural organisations in England and not to their equivalent here in Scotland. That is deeply concerning.

On Sarah Boyack’s point about additional funding, I mentioned in my statement the funding commitments that will go to support museum recovery, including the Scottish Crannog Centre, which found itself in a unique situation earlier this year.

The cultural collective work is hugely important. A lot of our current recovery plans are focused on driving a community recovery with regard to our culture sector. That work is vital and has to be rooted in accessibility. We know that our poorer communities are less likely to have access to culture, so it is important that our recovery plans reflect and challenge that, and ensure that funding gets to those who need it most.

Ms Boyack mentioned funding for the arts in education recovery group. We will hear later from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy about the budget, so I do not want to prejudge any announcement that she will make.

In general, I am very supportive of arts prescribing as a method to ensure that there is a cultural recovery. I would refer to that as preventative spend; making those interventions is hugely important. In my statement, I touched on the paper that went up to the Cabinet a few weeks ago. The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture and I will be meeting a number of other cabinet secretaries very soon, including the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, to discuss some of the opportunities there. As Ms Boyack will know, I am very keen, with my former teacher hat on, that we further explore the opportunity through arts in education. Arts prescribing more generally is a valid place that I would like us to explore in more detail.

As the minister said, Brexit has undoubtedly thrown up barriers, including barriers to artists’ ability to tour and perform. What steps is the Scottish Government taking to support Scotland’s artists and musicians to tour and perform in Europe?

Brexit has undoubtedly created challenges for touring artists, some of which I mentioned. We are yet to see the full impact, given Covid-related travel restrictions, but Brexit has introduced costs and administrative barriers to accessing the sector’s largest overseas markets. As I noted, we have provided £10,000 to support Arts Infopoint UK, which has been set up to help artists to navigate the new administrative challenge that Brexit has created.

The Scottish Government will continue to make the case that the UK Government and the EU should agree visa-free travel arrangements to allow UK and EU artists to move freely. I last met the UK Government culture minister in June and I am yet to meet the new minister, although I have asked to do so. Getting movement on the issue is hugely important for our music sector. There is a pragmatic solution and it is time that we had movement to protect jobs in our music sector.

Many cultural venues across Scotland have succumbed to damage in the past few months, after underuse as a result of the pandemic and battering from recent storms. What will the Scottish Government do to protect some of the most vulnerable buildings in communities across Scotland?

Jeremy Balfour asks about cultural venues. The Scottish Government has provided support by contributing significant funding through our culture organisations and venues recovery fund, which totalled £25 million, and I gave examples of its impact.

There might be a potential challenge to buildings that Mr Balfour is alive to and I am not. If he would like to share details that relate to the heritage sector, I would be more than happy to discuss that with him in more detail.

I recognise that the heritage sector has challenges in reopening buildings. To be blunt, climate change is also a challenge. I saw that well illustrated by the Hill house box project—some members might have seen it—which involves the Charles Rennie Mackintosh building in Helensburgh. That is a fantastic example of how the National Trust for Scotland is preserving a hugely significant building by encasing it in a metal box, which will guard against the impacts of climate change.

I am not sure whether Mr Balfour was alluding to such matters. I am happy to have a further conversation with him and to hear any learning that he has for the Government, because I recognise the challenges.

An issue has been escalated to me in my capacity as the convener of the cross-party group on music. The Scottish commercial music industry task force wrote recently to the UK Government to highlight its concern that only £9 million of £40 million that was committed to in Barnett consequentials for culture has been given to the Scottish Government. The minister has referred to that. What discussions has she had with the UK Government about that very concerning situation?

The discussions that I have had about the matter were in the two meetings that I had with the previous culture minister, which were in May and June. We still seek clarity from HM Treasury on why the £40 million has not yet been passed on in full. We continue to press the UK Government to deliver the remaining £31 million of consequentials, which relate to the budget that the chancellor announced in March.

As for the Scottish Government’s wider work, I have invited the Scottish commercial music industry task force and the Music Venue Trust to a round-table discussion next week, on 15 December, with me and the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture. That will allow us to better understand how the Scottish Government can support the music industry in its recovery from the pandemic. The Scottish commercial music industry task force has also written to the UK Government about the matter.

I thank the minister for advance sight of her statement. More access to funding is crucial for small and community-based organisations, as countless bodies are still struggling to recover from the impact of Covid-19. Many small community organisations still face barriers to unlocking their full potential as the driving force of our culture sector. The complexities and delays in the application process prevent them from planning and being sure of the financial support that they desperately need. Events such as Edinburgh Diwali and the Eid celebrations that are organised by smaller organisations and visited by hundreds of people, including the minister, are still struggling. How will the Government ensure that small organisations can gain access to crucial funding to enable them to recover and that they will not have to wait until a week before their events start to learn whether funding is secured?

I enjoyed my experience at Edinburgh Diwali, at which Foysol Choudhury and Ms Boyack were present. It was a fantastic experience and a privilege to be a part of the event a couple weeks ago.

On the support that we have been able to provide, the Scottish Government understands how deeply impacted the sector has been by the pandemic. Foysol Choudhury rightly speaks to some of the challenges that smaller organisations have experienced. One of the announcements that I confirmed today was the museums and galleries fund. That £1 million fund will deliver small amounts of funding to smaller organisations. That is hugely important.

Next year is Scotland’s year of stories. There is a vital story for our museums sector to tell in that regard, because it tells the stories of our local communities. If we can get funding to smaller museums, we can help to share that story in Scotland’s community and embed the sense of place.

I have not had any correspondence on hold-ups, complexities and delays in applications but, if Mr Choudhury wants to write to me, I am keen to raise it. It is the second time that it has been raised. As I mentioned, I am meeting Creative Scotland tomorrow, so I am more than happy to raise the issue. I do not want smaller organisations to be in some way prohibited from bidding for the funding or for them to be more likely to feel the financial impacts of the pandemic because they are smaller and, therefore, less robust in dealing with them. I will take that matter away. If Mr Choudhury writes to me on the specifics, I will be more than happy to speak to him on the issues that he has raised.

I refer to the economic impact of investment in culture. The Great Tapestry of Scotland centre was built in Galashiels with £2.5 million in Scottish Government funding. To date, since its opening in late August, 7,000 tickets have been sold despite Covid. Does the minister agree that the £2.5 million was an investment not only in the centre and the regeneration of Galashiels but in the wider Borders economy?

Absolutely. It is fantastic that the new, world-class Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor experience, which was designed to support regeneration and wellbeing, has opened in Galashiels in Ms Grahame’s constituency.

The Scottish Government has been a strong supporter of the Great Tapestry of Scotland from its inception. The creation of the new visitor centre is part of a wider economic and social regeneration across the south of Scotland, as Ms Grahame alluded to in her question. It is incredibly fitting that, for many people who visit the area, Scotland’s story will begin just 3 miles from Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott. The centre’s opening is an inspiring moment as we look forward to the celebration of the year of stories in 2022 and I look forward to being able to visit the great tapestry in the new year with Ms Grahame.

I thank the minister for her statement and, in particular, the increased funding for the culture collective and the Scottish Crannog Centre. We have all had incredible experiences at the centre. It is an absolute time machine and it would be great to see the crannog recreated.

The statement underlines the importance of the creative sector to wellbeing, regeneration, place making and mental health. The sector consists of busy, creative organisations, but they often spend a lot of time applying for annual funding year after year. A lot of creative time is wasted through that funding process, so what hope can the minister give us that we will move to a multiyear funding process that ensures that creative organisations have the certainty to invest in their communities and deliver all the amazing wellbeing benefits that we are used to them delivering?

Before the minister responds, I invite members who are moving into the chamber for the next item of business to respect the colleagues who are engaged in the statement and asking questions.

Mark Ruskell rightly speaks to the hugely important wellbeing impacts that investing in culture can have. There are wider, cross-governmental priorities that investing in culture will allow us to deliver. I am keen to meet ministerial colleagues on that along with the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture in the next few weeks.

The funding issue that Mr Ruskell raises is a matter for Creative Scotland but, as I have mentioned in two answers, I am meeting the agency tomorrow, so I am more than happy to take the matter up. The point on financial certainty is well made. However, I again relay the point that the uncertainty that has been created by our not receiving the full amount of the culture consequentials that were due to Scotland is not welcome in the sector. If we could get some clarity from the UK Government on that in the immediate future, it would be welcome. However, in the interim, I am happy to raise the matter with Creative Scotland.

I thank the minister for her statement. How will the Scottish Government ensure that the history and culture of rural and island areas, especially in Gaelic, will be reflected in its policies?

A range of Gaelic initiatives are in place in areas of low population, such as MG Alba, Stòrlann—if I do not pronounce the following correctly, please correct me; I see Kate Forbes sitting beside me—Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and Ceòlas, which create employment for young Gaelic speakers and opportunities to use and learn the language. There is also a network of Gaelic development officers operating throughout island and rural areas to support the Gaelic language. I recall from my time in Education Scotland sitting across from some of those development officers.

The Scottish Government is working closely and positively with the local authorities in those areas in early years education and in the arts to support Gaelic. I would be happy to provide any further information on that to Jenni Minto.

We also have a number of manifesto commitments to support Gaelic and Scots. Naturally, as those develop, we will ensure that rural and island communities are reflected in those plans.

Your pronunciation was a valiant effort, minister.

What discussions has the Scottish Government had on working together with the cultural sector to ensure that as many people as possible use lateral flow tests before they attend venues? That is not mandated by the Government.

The primary way in which we have engaged with the sector on that matter has been through the event industry advisory group, which meets every three weeks, I think. I meet it then, and that issue, which is hugely important, is regularly raised with us.

At our previous meeting, which was two weeks ago, the issue of our communications package was raised. We are working with the events industry on that. It is hugely important that we continue, particularly with the emergence of new variants, to relay that messaging to people as they experience events. We all want to support our cultural recovery, but it is important that the population does that safely. The main way in which people can do that is, of course, by taking a lateral flow test before they attend an event.

The communication with the event industry advisory group continues, and we are working on the communication package with the group and officials to ensure that the messaging gets to those who need to hear it and that people test before they go to experience live concerts and events. That is particularly important in the run-up to Christmas.

The minister mentioned Scots. The Scots language is a huge part of Scotland’s culture, and the promotion of Scots has been affected by the pandemic. What work is the Scottish Government undertaking to further promote the use of the Scots language across Scotland as we emerge through and out of the pandemic? Will the minister agree to attend a future meeting of the re-established Scots language cross-party group to provide an update on work in relation to Scots, which I am telt includes Doric as well?

I recognise Emma Harper’s interest in, and commitment to, the Scots language.

The Scottish Government has made it clear that our support for indigenous languages includes Scots, of course, and it is essential that those who wish to use the Scots language are given every opportunity to use the language of their choice. For many Scots, the Scots language is the language of home and community, and its use in other areas of Scottish life should be encouraged.

Emma Harper extended an invitation to me to attend her cross-party group. I would be more than happy to take up that invitation.