Creative Scotland funding process “completely unsatisfactory”, say MSPs

Culture Committee convener says organisation requires further scrutiny
Jonathan Knott
Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) have described Creative Scotland’s regular funding process as “completely unsatisfactory” after questioning those responsible for it last week.

The national arts agency’s chief executive Janet Archer and former interim chair Ben Thomson were called before Scotland’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee after a public outcry forced the organisation to climb down over planned cuts as part of its regular funding programme for 2018-2021.

Following the session, convener Joan McAlpine MSP said the committee had been “absolutely astonished” by the number of organisations that had expressed concern and had heard of “inaccuracies during the evaluation of funding applications, last-minute changes to decisions and instances where Creative Scotland reversed decisions for some organisations but not for others – without giving any explanation whatsoever”.

“We’ve also heard about a lack of input from the sector and reports of poor communication both before and after the decisions were announced,” said McAlpine. “It is deeply worrying that these concerns are being expressed about an organisation that manages public funds and we believe that it requires further scrutiny.”

Committee member Claire Baker, a Labour MSP, said that the explanations provided by Archer and Thomson were “unconvincing”.
“There has been a distinct lack of consistency and transparency and it’s clear that there are voices in the sector who have lost confidence in the process followed by Creative Scotland,” said Baker.

Archer told the committee that she was “profoundly sorry” that the delivery of recent funding decisions had been experienced negatively, and added “we can’t let this happen again”.

She continued: “My role as chief executive of Creative Scotland is to take ultimate responsibility for everything that Creative Scotland does. I am currently in dialogue with everyone involved at every level in the process and I will make sure we learn from this moment and resolve all outstanding issues fairly and openly.”

She also reiterated that the organisation would carry out a “root and branch” review of how it funds, “in full collaboration with the people and organisations we support”.

In January, Creative Scotland added 19 new Regularly Funded Organisations (RFOs) to its 2018-2021 regular funding programme and cut 20 others, including two theatre companies that work with children and young people, and two that work with disabled people.

The announcement prompted widespread protest: 150 people signed an open letter to Creative Scotland regarding cuts to the funding of theatre company Catherine Wheels, and 50 disabled people signed another open letter protesting cuts to the Birds of Paradise and Lung Ha theatre companies.

The controversy led to the resignation of two Creative Scotland board members, and the organisation’s handling of the cuts appeared to be criticised on Twitter by Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop. Hyslop tweeted: “A lot of angst and worry could be avoided if CS [Creative Scotland] is clearer to Children + Disability theatre companies its commitment and funding plans”.

Following an emergency board meeting on 2 February, Creative Scotland announced that it would inject an extra £2.6m into the programme, enabling it to restore regular funding to the four theatre companies as well as a baroque musical ensemble.

This brought the total number of RFOs to 121, including Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery (£2m) and the Glasgow International contemporary art festival (£300,000). Fifteen organisations will still lose their regular funding.

Alongside the original announcement of the programme in January, Creative Scotland also unveiled plans for a new £2m touring fund in 2019-20, and transition funding for organisations that lost regular funding.

But at the committee hearing, McAlpine questioned the thoroughness of the process for distributing the transition funding, saying she had heard from a dance company that it had been asked to submit half a sheet of A4 paper to apply for £108,000, which a choreographer was told could be spent on “anything you wish save for taking a holiday in the Bahamas”.

McAlpine said: “It’s patronising to them and it seems to me to absolutely blow a hole through your assertions that you have a very careful process and you’re careful with the way you spend public money”.

Archer said she had not previously heard the account and would discuss it with the Creative Scotland staff member and the person who reported the discussions.

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