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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, January 20, 2022


Portfolio Question Time

Constitution, External Affairs and Culture

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

I remind members that Covid-related measures are in place and that face coverings should be worn while moving around the chamber and the wider campus.

The next item of business is portfolio questions, and this time the portfolio is constitution, external affairs and culture. I remind members that questions 3 and 6 are grouped and that I will take any supplementaries on those questions after both have been answered. If a member wishes to ask a supplementary on any other question, they should please press their request-to-speak button at the point of the relevant question.

It will not surprise members to learn that we have quite a bit of interest in some questions more than others, so I would appreciate succinct questions and succinct answers from the ministerial team.

Creative Industries (Self-employment)

To ask the Scottish Government what assistance it is giving to people in the creative industries who are self-employed and may have work cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (S6O-00642)

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

The Scottish Government recognises the substantial challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic has presented to self-employed people and freelancers in the creative industries. We have already provided £240 million to the culture sector over the pandemic, which includes £65 million to help alleviate the financial pressures that individuals and businesses have been facing following cultural venue closures and event cancellations in the light of the omicron variant. That support includes the £10 million cancellation fund for creative freelancers, to support freelancers who are experiencing immediate financial hardship following cancellations. Self-employed individuals operating as a cultural organisation are eligible for the new £25 million Covid-19 cancellation fund for cultural organisations, via Creative Scotland.

Gillian Martin

How many freelancers have applied to the cancellation fund for creative freelancers since it opened in the first week of January? Does the money that freelancers can claim extend to the hiring of equipment, which may have had to be cancelled? I know that that will be an issue for many freelancers in television production and live music, in particular.

Angus Robertson

The member is absolutely right. As of yesterday, 19 January, there have been 1,728 applications to Creative Scotland’s cancellation fund for creative freelancers, requesting a total of £2.94 million. Sixty-one per cent of applications have been from freelancers in the music sector. So far, Creative Scotland has paid £1.05 million to freelancers.

For the freelancers fund, applicants need to evidence cancellations and they then self-assess the cost of cancellation, up to the £2,000 limit. To answer the specific question, a creative freelancer can include hire of equipment in their application, as long as the claim does not exceed £2,000.

Sarah Boyack (Lothian) (Lab)

What flexibility is in the guidance to support people to stay in our creative industries? I am thinking especially of those who have had to juggle behind the scenes and work incredibly hard to try and get work in other sectors, because a lack of employment has meant that they have not managed to keep going.

Angus Robertson

I can give Sarah Boyack my absolute assurance about the assessment of funding that is being undertaken by Creative Scotland—to which I pay tribute, incidentally. A lot of hard work has had to go into getting the schemes up and running during the festive season, to deal with closures in December and January, and, eventually, through to March.

Flexibility is being shown in the assessment of claims that are being made, especially to home in on individuals and businesses who are facing insolvency. I assure Sarah Boyack and colleagues across the chamber that Creative Scotland’s assessment process is ensuring that there is an understanding of the existential challenge that people and businesses are facing.

If colleagues are aware of any cases where decisions are not being taken as expeditiously as they might perhaps be in these extreme circumstances, I appeal to them to please raise them with me, and I will ensure that Creative Scotland will look at them. I have no reason to believe that that is happening, but I want to ensure that people are aware that a great effort is being undertaken to take these steps as quickly as possible.

Independence Referendum (Staffing Resources)

To ask the Scottish Government what staffing resources it has allocated to the preparation work for a new independence referendum. (S6O-00643)

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

Work on the programme for government commitments to hold an independence referendum and develop a prospectus for independence in this session of Parliament is being co-ordinated by the constitution and cabinet directorate. Officials in teams across a range of portfolios will contribute to the work as part of their wider responsibilities to support the Scottish Government. I am pleased that Maurice Golden acknowledges, in his question, that there will be a new independence referendum. We intend that that referendum will be conducted during this session of Parliament.

Maurice Golden

Children’s education has suffered, the national health service is stretched to breaking point and the economy is still fragile. Even the Scottish National Party must recognise that recovering from the pandemic is the real priority for the people of Scotland. Does the cabinet secretary not see that another damaging, disruptive, divisive referendum will put the recovery at risk?

Angus Robertson

I say gently to Maurice Golden, because he is clearly rehearsing the speeches that he was giving during the Scottish Parliament election campaign, that that question has been settled. His party and my party went to the public to ask for their support in an election. His party lost that election. The Scottish National Party and the Scottish Green Party were elected on a mandate to conduct a referendum during this session of Parliament.

Normally in democracies, Opposition parties try to hold the Government to account on delivering what the Government has promised to do in its manifesto. We were elected with a mandate to deliver a referendum, and I look forward to Maurice Golden ensuring that we do just that. I will be happy to deliver on a manifesto promise that we were elected to deliver.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

Can the cabinet secretary advise the Parliament how staffing resources allocated to preparing for a new independence referendum compare to the number of staff who are currently dealing with Brexit, more than a year after we left the European Union?

Angus Robertson

As I explained previously, staff from a number of parts of the Scottish Government will be involved in work to prepare for a referendum on independence. To put that in context, civil servants from business areas all over the Scottish Government continue to work on matters resulting from the UK Government’s determination to pursue a hard Brexit against the democratic will of the people of Scotland. Such matters include the estimated £9 billion cut to Scotland’s gross domestic product by 2030 and the damage to Scottish businesses that wish to trade with the EU as a result of their facing all sorts of unnecessary new barriers. That work has, for example, required some 98 separate pieces of secondary legislation alone just to keep the statute law working.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

Just because the Tories have got it wrong does not mean that the SNP has to get it wrong, too.

I cannot believe my ears. I shared a platform with the First Minister throughout the election campaign and I heard her say that she would not push forward with an independence referendum and campaign until the pandemic was over. We know fine well that the virus is still among us, but here we have a minister devoting scarce resources to an independence campaign. What on earth is he thinking?

Angus Robertson

I would have thought that somebody espousing liberalism and democracy would recognise an election result. Governments need to do a great many things, and one of the things that we will do, because we were elected to do so in a democracy, is to conduct a referendum during this session of Parliament. I am sure that Willie Rennie would be at the front of the queue if the preparation work was not being done in the run-up to that referendum.

Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP)

I welcome the allocation of resource to honour the SNP’s manifesto commitment to deliver a referendum in this session of Parliament. I welcome, too, the Scottish Government’s programme for government. I wonder whether those preparations might include looking into whether the better together promises that were made in 2014 have since been honoured.

Angus Robertson

I can certainly raise that when we get to that stage of the preparations. I do not think that it will take a long time to research whether the promises and threats that were raised by the better together campaign of the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, who campaigned together, have been broken, because most of them have.

Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

Can the cabinet secretary advise whether preparation work for an independence referendum will look at how the UK has fared economically and socially in the 21st century, compared to its neighbours in north-west Europe?

Can you be as brief as possible, please, cabinet secretary?

I give my colleague an absolute assurance that the answer is yes, and with good reason.

Afghan Refugees Resettlement

3. Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its discussions with the United Kingdom Government regarding people in Afghanistan seeking resettlement in the UK who could be relocated in Scotland if they already have existing family connections, including in relation to correspondence from MSPs on this matter. (S6O-00644)

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

I thank Katy Clark for being persistent on this issue—I know that she cares about it deeply.

We engage regularly with the UK Government, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, individual local authorities and other partners to ensure that people are provided with the safety and security that they need in order to rebuild their lives in Scotland.

The UK Government is responsible for refugee resettlement and relocation, and the Home Office is responsible for the provision of accommodation. However, we continue to request that consideration is given to preferences, including where there are family and other connections, wherever possible.

Scotland is committed to playing its part in welcoming people fleeing Afghanistan. I am delighted that all Scotland’s 32 local authorities have confirmed their participation in the scheme.

Katy Clark

My experience—and I suspect that it is the same for other members—is that the Home Office is not responding to correspondence from MSPs and MPs who are acting on behalf of individuals who are trying to get out of Afghanistan. An investigation by Open Democracy in December found that more than 99 per cent of calls to the UK Government helpline were unanswered and only 5 per cent of callers received the necessary assistance. Will the cabinet secretary use his role to take that up with the Home Office and ask for more resources to be put into that work?

Angus Robertson

The situation with the Home Office is hugely disappointing. People who find themselves in such circumstances deserve respect—their situation should be dealt with expeditiously and they deserve consideration and empathy.

I encourage Katy Clark and any other members who have had such experiences in relation to constituency cases—it is not rare, unfortunately—to forward on any constituent correspondence to me and I will be happy to take it up with the Home Office. However, I have to say that I am not brimming with confidence that the Home Office will miraculously change its course in dealing with such matters.

Afghan Refugees Resettlement

6. Mercedes Villalba (North East Scotland) (Lab)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its discussions with the United Kingdom Government regarding the resettlement scheme for Afghan refugees who may be resettled in Scotland. (S6O-00647)

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

The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government met with Victoria Atkins, the UK Minister for Afghan Resettlement on 10 January to discuss the launch of the UK’s Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. At that meeting, the cabinet secretary raised the issue of property offers by local authorities that are waiting to be matched with Afghan families and the need to make that happen as soon as possible. She reiterated that funding provided by the UK Government to support Afghan families in Scotland needs to accurately reflect the need in Scotland.

It was agreed that more regular four-nation engagement will take place to discuss Afghan resettlement across the UK, and I know that the cabinet secretary is looking forward to that.

Mercedes Villalba

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees can only register Afghan citizens as refugees or asylum seekers once they are outside Afghanistan and in another country. However, there are still those in Afghanistan who remain at severe risk from the Taliban, especially if they are caught trying to travel to Iran or Pakistan to seek asylum through the UNHCR. Will the Scottish Government push the UK Government to clarify which safe routes will be available through the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, particularly for those who would be at risk if they travelled to another country to seek asylum?

Angus Robertson

That is an entirely reasonable suggestion, although we also need to bear in mind that some of the routes for people leaving Afghanistan are cloaked in secrecy so that the Taliban are not able to pursue those seeking refuge in other countries. I will consider the member’s request. We are in regular touch with the Home Office. We would all welcome having greater clarity on that, although we also accept that there is necessary secrecy around some of the routes through which refugees are safely able to get out of Afghanistan in the current circumstances.

Performance Venues (Covid-19 Restrictions)

To ask the Scottish Government what assessment has been made of the impact of Covid-19 restrictions over the festive period on theatres and other performance venues. (S6O-00645)

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am sorry, but we do not appear to be able to hear the Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development. Maybe you can start your response again, minister, and see whether the issue has been resolved.

I am afraid that the connection is still not working. Bear with us for just a minute, minister. In the meantime, we will go to the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture for a response to the question. We will try to resolve your microphone issues for the subsequent questions, minister, and come back to you.

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

The omicron variant has come at a particularly challenging time for the sector, in which recovery from previous waves of the pandemic was beginning and significant sales for Christmas shows were predicted. I have spoken to theatre groups and performance venues directly, and I receive daily updates about the impact that Covid-19 restrictions are having on the sector.

The Scottish Government has made available £31.5 million for support for cultural businesses, organisations, venues and independent cinemas and for grass-roots venues. The impact assessments associated with the restrictions, including a business and regulatory impact assessment, will be published in the coming weeks.

Alex Cole-Hamilton

I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for understudying for his minister at short notice.

Capital Theatres in Edinburgh lost dozens of performances across the festive period. The King’s theatre alone lost 36. That came after two years of missed Edinburgh festival performances. Those are paying months for Edinburgh’s theatre industry. What more will the cabinet secretary’s Government do to support the theatre industry in its revival?

Angus Robertson

Speaking as the cabinet secretary for culture and the MSP for Edinburgh Central and many cultural venues in the capital, I say to the member for Edinburgh Western that I am absolutely seized of that issue. There is a challenge, the scale of which we understand. The fact that the Scottish Government reached very speedy agreement to find £65 million prior to Christmas to address the scale of the challenge evidences the seriousness with which we treat it.

I say to everybody in the chamber that, as we begin—I hope—with confidence the early stages of emerging from the omicron variant, we all have a role. We can support our cultural venues and attend shows, concerts, exhibitions and the like.

We need a two-pronged approach. We need to support our venues, which have suffered over recent weeks and months, but we also need to ensure that, as we are able to return and support the cultural sector, we do so whole-heartedly. I appeal to Alex Cole-Hamilton and everybody else in the chamber to join us in doing so.

Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

The city of Edinburgh was hit particularly hard when restrictions were imposed, with no notice to the culture sector, including our treasured theatres. Many were left in limbo without the financial support that was needed to keep the sector going. Can the cabinet secretary assure members and the culture sector that, if restrictions were to be imposed, adequate notice would be given to prepare the sector and financial resources would be ready to be disbursed to cultural venues?

Angus Robertson

That is a very important question. Throughout these circumstances, we have had the closest working relationship with the cultural sector. I have had many Teams calls with people throughout Scotland’s cultural and artistic community. At the earliest point at which notice can be given of any public health measures, they are shared with the sector, as they are with the wider business community.

I hope—as I am sure Foysol Choudhury does—that there will be no necessity to return to any form of safeguards or restrictions that impact on the cultural community. In the meantime, we will do everything that we can to disburse the necessary funds to ensure that individuals, businesses and venues remain solvent and are able to bounce back.

I make the same appeal to Foysol Choudhury and all colleagues in Edinburgh and throughout the rest of the country that I made to my Liberal Democrat colleague. Please let us do everything that we can to give as much confidence to people who are returning in supporting the cultural sector and our venues. That will give them the greatest chance of success.

Thank you for stepping in, cabinet secretary.

Culture-led Regeneration of Town Centres

To ask the Scottish Government what discussions the culture minister has had with ministerial colleagues regarding culture-led regeneration of town centres. (S6O-00646)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Jenny Gilruth)

I want culture to play a crucial role in the regeneration of town centres as we look towards recovery from the pandemic. Mainstreaming culture across Government portfolios is a central part of our current work. The Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture and I held ministerial bilateral meetings on that, both last week and only yesterday. Our discussion with the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy specifically explored culture’s role in our commitment to ensuring that no places or people are left behind. I also intend to discuss that with Tom Arthur, who has ministerial responsibility for town centres.

Colin Smyth

From Wigtown book town to the Stove Network in Dumfries, which led to the development of the Midsteeple Quarter, there are many good examples of culture-led regeneration across Dumfries and Galloway. However, given the big crisis that our town centres face, does the minister share my view that we need to redouble our efforts by increasing the support that we give to culture-led community-driven regeneration? We need a town centre-first approach not just in planning but in funding new cultural facilities in our towns.

Jenny Gilruth

I broadly agree with the sentiment of what the member has outlined. As he will know, we have a manifesto commitment to develop a national towns of culture scheme. We have started scoping what that scheme will look like, and I think that there is a real ambition to create a network across Scotland that celebrates our towns and our unique stories. That is particularly pertinent given that 2022 marks Scotland’s year of stories. The scheme itself will build on Scotland’s long track record of taking a place-based approach to our cultural programmes, such as our innovative culture collective scheme, which was launched last year. I know that, in Mr Smyth’s region, the Stove Network does fantastic work in the community and is currently benefiting from the support of our culture collective funding.

More broadly, with regard to funding and how we link up better across different Government departments, I hope that Mr Smyth listened to my original answer, in which I alluded to my meeting with Tom Arthur. I would like to speak to Mr Arthur about the regeneration of town centres to ensure that we get greater policy coherence. With regard to funding in communities, the cabinet secretary and I are committed to driving a cultural recovery from the pandemic that is rooted in our communities.

Sharon Dowey (South Scotland) (Con)

In Renfrewshire, spending on culture and heritage decreased by more than a third between 2016 and 2019; Clackmannanshire saw a drop of 27 per cent, and Glasgow saw a drop of 18 per cent. How will the minister promote culture locally when some of her party’s own councils are slashing their arts and heritage budgets by a third?

As briefly as possible, please, minister.

Jenny Gilruth

Sharon Dowey raises an important point, which is the role of local authorities in the delivery of culture locally. One of the important ways in which we can do that while respecting the autonomy of local authorities is through the culture conveners group, which I met just before Christmas, and which I will meet again in March. I hope that that reassures Sharon Dowey that I take the matter very seriously. It is imperative that we look at the different approaches that local authorities are using and ensure equity of access across the country in terms of our cultural services.

Cultural and Arts Sectors (Worker Support)

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on how it is supporting people working in the cultural and arts sectors. (S6O-00648)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Jenny Gilruth)

I appreciate that this is a difficult time for the cultural sector, even with the announcement of the easing of restrictions on Tuesday. The Scottish Government has previously provided £175 million of emergency funding to the culture, heritage and event sectors since the start of the pandemic. As a result of the recent restrictions, we announced an additional £65 million for the sector. That includes £31.5 million for cultural businesses, organisations, venues, independent cinemas and grass-roots venues; £2 million for the national performing companies, £10 million for freelancers; £19.8 million for the events sector; and £1.7 million for museums, galleries and heritage.

Pam Duncan-Glancy

Following the First Minister’s announcement in December requiring theatres to be restricted until next week, I have been contacted by constituents working for the Ambassador Theatre Group in Glasgow, who work across the King’s theatre and the Theatre Royal. The ATG took the decision not to call up any of its staff on zero-hours contracts or its casual workers during the period of closure, which has meant that 150 of my constituents have lost out on at least four weeks’ pay. Instead, the ATG recommended that, to ease the financial burden, they use their holiday hours. Fully contracted staff have continued to receive full pay—

We need a question, please, Ms Duncan-Glancy

Pam Duncan-Glancy

Those workers support moves to stop the spread of the virus. Does the minister agree that workers should not shoulder the financial burden of such decisions? Will she guarantee that any emergency funding that is offered to arts and events organisations is contingent on conditions that they do not use zero-hours contracts and that all zero-hours staff will be compensated for the loss of earnings?

Jenny Gilruth

I share Pam Duncan-Glancy’s concerns about zero-hours workers not being supported for their losses as a result of theatre closures and am aware of the situation in Glasgow.

My officials have discussed the issue of zero-hours contractors in the cultural sector with Creative Scotland, which administers the funds, as Ms Duncan-Glancy will appreciate. As she will know, the freelancers cancellation fund excludes zero-hours contract staff. However, the cultural organisations cancellation fund does not exclude organisations from applying for costs for zero-hours contract staff. I expect any organisation that applies to the Creative Scotland cultural organisations cancellation fund to use any money that it receives to pay all staff it employs, and that should include any zero-hours contract staff. I hope that that reassures Ms Duncan-Glancy.

Will the minister provide any further detail as to what assessment has been made regarding the impact of the removal of furlough on people who work in the culture sector?

Jenny Gilruth

Jenni Minto is correct to point to the importance of the furlough scheme to the creative sector throughout the pandemic. It provided a layer of financial support that we, as a devolved Government, simply could not. Its removal has increased anxiety in the sector and led to many creatives simply walking away. The First Minister wrote to the Prime Minister on the matter in December and it was raised in the four-nations culture call on Tuesday last week.

Live Music and Night-Time Industries

8. Tess White (North East Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government when it last met representatives of the live music and night time industries sectors and what was discussed. (S6O-00649)

The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Jenny Gilruth)

Since the pandemic started, the Scottish Government has engaged regularly with the live music and night-time industries to discuss issues such as guidance and business support. The Minister for Business, Trade, Tourism and Enterprise, Ivan McKee, who is responsible for the night-time industries, last met the Night Time Industries Association on 12 January. I met music industry representatives on 22 December, along with the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, to discuss the impact of omicron. Most recently, I met Celtic Connections and Glasgow Life on 18 January.

Tess White

The live music, night-time economy and hospitality sectors in the north-east continue to suffer as a result of the vaccination passport scheme. The Night Time Industries Association has highlighted losses of up to 30 per cent in trade. When will the Scottish Government heed the calls of business owners and scrap that punitive scheme?

Jenny Gilruth

I apologise, but I cannot share the sentiment of the member’s question. A number of the cultural organisations that the cabinet secretary and I have met welcomed the vaccination passport scheme because it allowed them to stay open safely. It is crucial to us reopening safely and allowing our cultural venues to open and succeed in the coming months and years. We very much hope that the challenges that the sector faced this Christmas will be behind it.

The vaccination passport system has not been rejected by people in the cultural sector, so I cannot agree with the sentiment of the member’s question.

Due to the technical difficulties, I will let the item overrun a little further to allow a supplementary question from Stephanie Callaghan. I ask her to be as brief as possible.

Stephanie Callaghan (Uddingston and Bellshill) (SNP)

We have already heard that event cancellations are having a substantial effect on the live music sector. Do the reinsurance schemes that are provided by the United Kingdom Government go far enough to protect the sector?

Jenny Gilruth

The Scottish Government has called for the UK Government to take action to address the market failure for events insurance since the pandemic began. The UK Government responded to those calls on 5 August last year with the announcement of an £800 million scheme, which extends to Scotland, but it is regrettable that it chose not to engage with the Scottish ministers on the scheme’s development.

Many stakeholders have also indicated that the scheme is not working in practice. That means that event organisers cannot afford the cost of the UK Government scheme, which they argue is financially prohibitive. I reiterate our call on the UK Government to work with the sector to identify improvements to the scheme. I raised that matter most recently during the four nations culture ministers call.

That concludes portfolio questions. There will be a brief pause while the front benches change for the next item of business.