Culture sector 'in crisis' over perfect storm of soaring costs and cuts

Arts bodies across Scotland warned they will be battling against financial pressures.

Scottish culture sector ‘in crisis’ over perfect storm of soaring costs and budget cuts, MSPs told iStock

Scotland’s culture sector is facing a “perfect storm” of increased costs and budget cuts, with MSPs warning the “crisis” means ministers need to develop an “innovative approach” to funding.

Members of Holyrood’s Culture Committee are now calling on the Scottish Government to consider the matter with “increased urgency”.

The plea came after MSPs heard from arts bosses at Creative Scotland that the sector’s recovery from the Covid pandemic had been “fragile and gradual”.

The arts organisation has seen its core budget for day-to-day spending reduced by approximately £13.1m between 2010-11 and 2022-23, the Scottish Parliament Information Centre found – with culture secretary Angus Robertson also telling the committee that spending on culture and major events next year would be down 2.3%

At the same time MSPs heard “significant concerns” from organisations about the impact of the cost of living crisis, particularly rising energy bills.

Heritage organisation Historic Environment Scotland could see its energy costs quadruple, going from £1m to £4m, the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee heard.

In a new report, the committee warned: “The sector now faces a ‘perfect storm’ as it struggles to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, compounded by the cost of living crisis, and following on from longer term budget pressures.”

The National Galleries of Scotland had told the committee that visitor numbers – and related income – were still below pre-Covid levels, with this “likely to be the case until at least 2025”.

Considering the pressure on the sector, the MSPs said: “Our view is that this means there is an increased urgency for the Scottish Government to accelerate consideration and implementation of an innovative approach to the funding of the culture sector.”

The committee was clear it was “strongly of the view that the current crisis provides an opportunity to accelerate innovative solutions to the budgetary pressures within the sector”.

As part of this it demanded the culture secretary provide “greater clarity” about how the planned Transient Visitor Levy – a scheme which could see a levy charged on hotel stays – could be used to support the sector at a local level.

MSPs also called on Robertson to “provide an update as soon as practical” on what progress has been made in establishing a percentage for the arts scheme, which could require a proportion of the overall cost of the construction of new public buildings, places or spaces to be spent on public arts.

Speaking as the report was published, committee convener Clare Adamson said: “Scotland’s cultural sector plays a vital role in Scottish life. But we heard blunt warnings from those within the sector that stark choices lie ahead.

“Increased operating costs come at a time when most cultural venues are still struggling to recover from the pandemic, and without truly innovative approaches to funding, there is a real danger that Scotland’s skilled cultural workforce will be lost along with some of our best-loved cultural icons.”

Adamson added: “There are no doubt considerable pressures across all areas of the Scottish Government budget, and there are no easy choices. But the current situation provides an opportunity to accelerate these innovative solutions.

“The Scottish Government must take action to protect this fundamental part of our society.”

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