Angus Robertson has defended the decision to reimpose a £6.6 million cut to Creative Scotland’s funding, saying the Scottish Government had to make savings following a series of public sector pay hikes.
Writing in The Herald on Sunday, the Culture Secretary insisted the SNP-Green administration would do their best to make up the shortfall next year.
However, Campaign For The Arts charity, the charity leading the protest against the cuts, said it was hard to trust the minister given last week’s unexpected u-turn.
The government first raised the prospect of a drop in Creative Scotland’s funding last December when they set out their draft budget for 2023/24.
But in February, following a campaign from the sector and the public, the then finance secretary John Swinney restored the funding, saying arts and culture were important to the “wellbeing of our society.”
However, last week, Creative Scotland said the money had “not been included in the Autumn Budget Revisions, and the cut is being reinstated.”
The arts body — which provides funding for a number of arts organisations as well as for a number of individual projects — will now use its National Lottery funding reserves to plug the gap.
However, they only have enough saved to do that for one year.
In his column, Mr Robertson said the initial £6.6 million uplift to the organisation’s budget in 2018 was only meant to be for three years and was a result of falling National Lottery funding.
“We have continued to provide the funding beyond this three-year period. Over the past five years, the Scottish Government has provided £33 million to Creative Scotland to compensate for this shortfall, and had agreed to provide a further £6.6 million this year.”
He added that the decision to push ahead with the cut was a result of “the changing financial circumstances” including “persistently high inflation and the impact this has had on overall costs and public sector pay settlements.”
The Scottish Government has agreed to a number of pay increases in recent months, leading to public sector wages rising faster north of the border than in England and Wales.
While the 14.5% hike for junior doctors meant Scotland was the only part of the UK to avoid a strike, it has left ministers needing to find £61.3 million
Last month, ministers freed up £80m in an unsuccessful bid to see off school strikes by non-teaching staff.
There have also been increases for nurses, teachers, police, train drivers and other public sector workers.
Mr Robertson said Creative Scotland had “built up substantial funding reserves since 2018, when the Scottish Government began covering the shortfall in its National Lottery funding.”
“As the national body responsible for funding and supporting our creative industries, I expect Creative Scotland to use all resources at their disposal and I am pleased that they have agreed to use part of their funding reserves to cover the National Lottery shortfall this year, to support the culture sector and help protect jobs at this challenging financial time for us all,” he said.
Responding to the comments, Jack Gamble, the director of Campaign For The Arts told The Herald on Sunday: “Creative Scotland rightly maintains reserves for an emergency, but none of us expects that emergency to be created by the Scottish Government.”
He added:“Last year, ministers gave Creative Scotland 10% less funding than five years previously, in real terms.
“When they tried to impose another 10% cut this year, despite the huge pressures on artists and cultural organisations arising from the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis, thousands joined our campaign to express their outrage.
“It beggars belief that only seven months after the Scottish Government abandoned the £6.6 million cut, saying they had listened and parading a £6.6 million ‘uplift’ to support the sector, they are rowing back on their promise and slashing the budget anyway.”
Mr Gamble continued: “The SNP’s 2021 manifesto said ‘culture is central to who we are as a nation’, and that ‘the pandemic has demonstrated more than ever how vital it is to our wellbeing, mental health and sense of belonging’.
“How, at a time when the cultural sector has so much to give, can it be treated in such a reckless and haphazard way by ministers whose job is to support it? “How can commitments to restore funding in future years be taken on trust after sudden U-turns like this and years of underinvestment?”
A spokesperson from Creative Scotland said: "Whilst the unprecedented pressures on public finances are understood, we are disappointed that the Scottish Government has taken this decision. However, Creative Scotland is acting swiftly and pragmatically to help stabilise the situation in the short term.
"This step of using our National Lottery reserves in this way will only happen once. The budget for 2024/25 will not be decided by the Scottish Government for some months yet but should the Scottish Government choose to sustain this reduction, we will require to pass it on to the sector."