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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, November 16, 2023


Culture in Communities

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Annabelle Ewing)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-11153, in the name of Clare Adamson, on behalf of the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, on its report “Culture in Communities: The challenges and opportunities in delivering a place-based approach”.


Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

I am delighted to open this debate as convener of the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee. I would like to put on record my thanks to our clerks for their work in organising our inquiry. I also want to thank everyone who took part in our lunchtime event to highlight the report.

We are joined in the gallery by representatives who took part in our inquiry, some of whom attended our evidence sessions. That includes people from the WHALE arts centre, the Museums Association, Museums Galleries Scotland, Creative Lives and Art27. We had performances from those who are delivering some of the projects, including Recovery Scotland, the North Lanarkshire Recovery Community band, Reeltime Music, Culture Collective representative John Martin Fulton, Storytelling Centre representative—also a representative of the Culture Collective—Jane Mather and Spotlight Shotts. I welcome those who are with us today.

As I said, I am delighted to open the debate. Our inquiry considered the important matter of access to culture in communities. As we heard, for many people, participation in culture in their community is

“what their cultural life looks like”.—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 4 May 2023; c 35.]

It is about being part of a local choir, a book club or a drama group, going along to a makeshift cinema in a town hall or library, setting up an open-mic night or joining in on gala day.

Scotland is a culturally rich nation, so it is important to ensure not only that communities across Scotland have the opportunity to participate in and enjoy cultural activities—and not only participate but be empowered to shape the cultural life of their place and their community—but that organisations that deliver cultural interventions in communities truly understand and respond to the unique needs of those communities. Indeed, the Scottish Government’s culture strategy is clear in that regard. It says:

“Giving people a greater say in shaping the cultural life of their communities ... can help protect Scotland’s ... cultural heritage”.

That gets to the nub of the place-based approach to culture, which is a key focus for the culture strategy, and it builds on long-standing ambitions to adopt community-led approaches to service delivery.

Our report considered the challenges and opportunities in delivering that place-based approach to culture. I thank again all the organisations that submitted evidence to the inquiry or took part in our visits, and those who took part in our round-table discussions during the inquiry. I also thank those who participated in our engagement visits to the communities in Wester Hailes, Craigmillar, Dumfries and Orkney. That rich evidence helped to inform our inquiry and the findings of our report. We heard countless positive examples of that place-based cultural work being delivered in communities. We saw at first hand the transformative impact that local cultural projects are having, including on regeneration, on creative placemaking and, particularly, on the support of wellbeing.

However, our report also identified several challenges facing national and local government in delivering that approach. Those challenges must be addressed to realise the ambition of the cultural strategy.

The deputy convener will expand on some of those challenges in his closing remarks, but I will begin with the importance of supporting the vital role of voluntary arts. We heard that the “vast majority” of cultural activities in communities are

“dependent on the efforts of volunteers.”

We saw that in action on our visit to Orkney, where we met the volunteer-run cultural groups that are the backbone of Orkney’s cultural life. We heard not only of the immense commitment from the community to make cultural activity happen but of the challenge of volunteer fatigue and burn-out.

We know that not all communities have the time and resources to volunteer. Given the vital role of volunteers in sustaining local culture, we are concerned about the impacts of those inequalities on opportunities for cultural participation.

We also heard calls for there to be greater support for the voluntary arts, with capacity building and regular microgrant funding for voluntary groups. We have asked the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland to explore whether further support can be provided, particularly to the communities with fewer resources.

I now turn to the wider challenge of funding. That was central to the evidence that we received.

The long-standing financial challenges that the culture sector faces, which have intensified in recent years, have been well documented. Indeed, the committee’s pre-budget report, which was published last week, says that the “perfect storm” facing the sector

“has not abated over the last 12 months”.

We heard that the wider budgetary pressures were constraining funding for cultural organisations to deliver place-based projects and activities, local government cultural services and publicly owned community spaces in which cultural activity takes place. Those funding constraints pose a significant challenge to the successful delivery of the culture policy. Community-based cultural projects need to be embedded over the longer term to be successful. However, that work often relies on short-term and volatile project funding. Indeed, we heard the phrase “donut funding” mentioned. Quite often, projects would be funded, but the infrastructure and organisational aspects that are needed to support those individual projects would not be.

We heard that the Culture Collective programme had been a powerful example of a national place-based initiative that had supported cultural organisations and artists to work in partnership with communities to develop local projects, and that that had benefited from being “funded at scale” over a two-year period. The Stellar Quines representative said that the programme had enabled it to show

“how it could be and what might be possible”—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 4 May 2023; c 20.]

if the necessary funding was available to deliver that work on an on-going basis. With funding for the programme concluding, the Scottish Government should now set out how its legacy will be built upon through future place-based initiatives and the new cultural strategy.

On our visit to WHALE arts centre in Wester Hailes, we heard about donut funding, which supports delivery but not the overheads from having a building or the infrastructure that is needed to support an organisation to do administrative and planning work.

A significant challenge for organisations was trying to deliver long-term transformative work. Who in the funding landscape should cover those overheads? We think that that question needs further consideration. We believe that there needs to be clearer understanding of the roles of national and local government funding for community-based culture in supporting the activity itself and the infrastructure that underpins it.

The emphasis on the role of communities and place in the culture strategy is very welcome. However, in practice, there still needs to be a much greater prioritisation of the role of community culture at the heart of the culture sector as a whole in recognition of the fact that, for many people, their cultural participation in their communities is perhaps the only cultural activity that they will take part in.

We have invited the Scottish Government to consider whether community-based culture should be funded separately from professional arts and whether they should not be seen as having parity. I note the Scottish Government’s response that that model will be taken into consideration.

Local government also has an essential role to play, but the on-going funding challenges that it faces are leading to real-terms reductions in spend on local cultural activities, which are often seen as low-hanging fruit. We are concerned about the impact that that could have on the delivery of services in communities. The Glasgow Life culture trust said:

“the health of local government finances has a direct impact on the funding available for the services that Glasgow Life provides.”

Community Leisure UK said that any reductions in spend on culture

“will now result in reductions in provision”,

as all the saving mechanisms had already been considered and implemented. The Museums Association said that that could lead to

“local authorities limiting cultural provision or removing free access to culture”.

National and local government need to work in partnership to assess the on-going impact of the fiscal environment—

I am sorry to interrupt, Ms Adamson, but I think that your allocated time is nine minutes.

I beg your pardon, Deputy Presiding Officer.

We do not have any time in hand.

Clare Adamson

On that note, I will conclude.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the conclusions and recommendations contained in the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee’s 4th Report, 2023 (Session 6), Culture in Communities: The challenges and opportunities in delivering a place-based approach (SP Paper 431).

Thank you very much, Ms Adamson. I call the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, Angus Robertson. You have up to eight minutes, please, cabinet secretary.


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

I am pleased to be here today to hear from colleagues across the chamber about how we harness the opportunities and rise to the challenges of place-based cultural provision. I pay tribute to all members of the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee for their report. One of our ambitions in the Scottish Government is to meet communities’ economic, physical and social needs, ensuring sustainability and supporting wellbeing. Culture and creativity are a vital part of that, and our ambition for everyone to experience the transformative potential of culture is one of the key pillars of our culture strategy.

We are very much alive to the fact that this is an incredibly challenging time for the sector. The enduring shocks of Brexit fallout, the pandemic, the energy crisis and the mismanagement of the economy by the United Kingdom Government have sent prices spiralling, and we have had to make incredibly difficult decisions in the light of those financial challenges.

However, we have prioritised support for culture, and I was delighted to report yesterday that the Scottish Government has released £6.68 million of funding to the culture sector for the rest of this financial year. That funding comprises £1.5 million to the Culture Collective programme, about which we have heard so much already, £2 million to Screen Scotland, £250,000 to the platforms for creative excellence—PLACE—programme, £130,000 to the national performing companies touring fund and £2.8 million to fund public sector pay policy uplifts.

That funding will support individuals and communities across Scotland via our funding to the Culture Collective programme, and it is a demonstration of our continued investment in screen and in festivals. In addition, we have now released £2.6 million to Sistema Scotland, delivering on our commitment to ensure that the organisation has the funding that it needs this year to continue to deliver its big noise programmes in communities across the country.

Separately, and in light of the challenging context that we are in, we have been reviewing the actions that support the culture strategy. Although we recognise that the aims and ambitions of the strategy are still very relevant, we will publish a refreshed action plan later this year, setting out what we will do to respond to the challenges. That will include actions on how we will support culture and creativity in our communities. I have already mentioned that one of the ways that we do that is through our support for programmes such as the Cultural Collective and Sistema Scotland. We also do that through the youth music initiative, support to independent museums, and the funding of our national bodies, performing companies and Edinburgh international festival.

We are proud that, in spite of on-going challenges, our funding for culture reaches grass-roots, local, regional, national and international communities. We cannot understate the value that we place on our cultural and creative organisations and the contribution that they make to the wellbeing of individuals and communities across Scotland.

Last month, the First Minister announced that the Scottish Government will increase our investment in Scotland’s art and culture by £100 million over the next five years. That is a huge vote of confidence in our culture sector, and it will help to protect the sector and the impact that it makes on people’s lives.

As was set out in our 2023-24 budget, around £90 million was allocated to budget lines for Creative Scotland and other arts, for national performing companies, for royal and ceremonial events, and for culture and major events staffing. That amount seeks to more than double the funding for those areas by 2029.

Ministers will take decisions about where the funding is allocated in 2024-25 and future years, subject to the outcome of the Scottish budget process and associated approval by the Scottish Parliament. I have encouraged colleagues and parties across the chamber to let their views be known, please, in advance of that. The Scottish Government intends to present the draft budget for 2024-25 to Parliament on Tuesday 19 December.

I reiterate the words of the First Minister that we are making a choice

“to ensure that Scotland’s arts and culture are supported to grow at home, and be seen across the world.”

Working in collaboration with the culture sector around that will be vital. I have already begun meeting MSP colleagues and members of the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee to discuss the culture funding model. I welcome ideas from all members and I encourage my colleagues to get in touch to share their thoughts on the culture funding model. I think that we are in agreement across the chamber that collaboration in that respect is key.

In October, I was lucky to attend a showcase for the Culture Collective programme and to see some of the inspiring work that is taking place across that network of 26 participatory arts projects, hearing from participants and practitioners about the impact that our investment has had on their lives through grass-roots, community-developed cultural provision.

For example, Street Level Photoworks offers a wide range of artistic residencies in the new Gorbals and Govanhill areas of Glasgow, connecting to communities via local community connector posts and housing associations. The artists were open to adapting their practice to meet the needs of the communities on which they are based. In the Gorbals alone, residency locations range from the local primary school, youth centre and local community arts clubs to a hair salon, a barber shop and even the local chippy.

An Lanntair took a completely different approach, developing an intergenerational project with a local museum and a youth club. It was a multi-art form and heritage project in which participants explored local stories, geography, history and culture, resulting in the creation of new artwork based on that heritage material. That led to the development of a collective intergenerational picture of the community, detailing what is special to the community about its own area and highlighting the similarities and differences in the community over time and over the generations.

I am proud that we have protected our investment in the programme. Communities have the opportunity to contribute to what they would like to see in their local area in regard to culture. That brings to life our culture strategy ambition, which is that everyone should be able to experience and take part in culture.

I look forward to hearing the views of members from across the chamber. I will end where I started, by extending my appreciation to the convener and other members of the committee for their hard work in drawing up the report, and to fellow members of the chamber who have a close interest in cultural affairs.


Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

The debate provides a welcome opportunity for the Parliament to set out its vision for embedding culture in our communities. An effective place-based approach should empower communities to create cultural projects that meet their own needs. In a culturally diverse place such as Scotland, that raises the question of how we can best meet such needs.

On that question, there was broad consensus on what good practice should look like. Dumfries and Galloway Council perhaps put it best when it highlighted that effective cultural participation means allowing cultural projects to develop from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. In essence, it should be for communities to decide which cultural initiatives they would like to see, instead of governing bodies deciding that for them.

Community-based cultural organisations are a key part of achieving that objective. Throughout its inquiry, our committee heard evidence that organisations that are embedded in communities in the long term are far more effective at engaging. Ultimately, cultural engagement is a long-term project, and the way in which we engage with communities should reflect that.

We know that funding for such organisations is crucial. The culture collective programme has provided important funding for numerous arts projects across Scotland, which is to be welcomed. As of last month, that funding has ended, so a key recommendation of our committee’s report is that the Scottish Government should set out whether any further funding will be provided. I note the cabinet secretary’s comments, made over the past few days, on how such funding will be approached, and I have no doubt that the sector will embrace that. However, we must consider what we will do for the future. Following the Scottish Government’s recent U-turns on cultural funding, now is not the time for even more financial uncertainty for the sector.

Our committee also called for a more innovative approach to the funding of the culture sector in general. Although the evidence on whether community-led culture projects should be funded separately from professional arts organisations was inconclusive, it was clear that more flexibility in the funding system is needed. On that issue, the Stove Network highlighted that the current system forces community-based culture projects to compete for funding against differently structured projects, which sometimes causes conflict. Creative Lives described how cultural funding streams are most effective when there is scope for flexibility between different projects. Several stakeholders were clear that multiyear funding settlements could play an important part in any potential funding reforms.

The Scottish Government should listen to what the sector is telling it on the issue, because it understands how things should be managed. It wants the Government to take its concerns on board. It is time for the Government to come good on its talk about potential reforms. The sector has reformed itself, and continues to do so, but it wants the Scottish Government to be supportive of the reforms that it has suggested and which could be worked on collectively. I look forward to seeing whether that will happen.

Another key theme of the committee’s work was on community assets. Potential cultural venues include many spaces such as village halls, libraries and churches in our communities. Throughout the inquiry, the committee heard about various potential threats to many of those cultural assets.

Sometimes, communities feel under pressure to rescue venues that are at risk, and many have taken on such venues. It is a large responsibility for community groups to acquire venues, but it is only right that they should be empowered to do so with an understanding of the circumstances.

The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill was passed back in 2015, and organisations have been working to ensure that it is applied. The power in relation to community asset transfers has been in effect since 2017, but there is still much to do to ensure that communities benefit from the potential of such transfers. Community groups are often fully aware of their legal right to acquire assets but, in practice, many groups are still finding it a little bureaucratic to take assets on board.

Some public bodies are still focused entirely on the monetary value of assets, and cultural shifts are still required to take full advantage of such assets. It is important for the Scottish Government to work together with councils to ensure that the process runs as smoothly as possible.

Since the 2015 act came into force, there have been 225 successful asset transfers. There is great cultural potential, but we must look at how to maximise that in our communities.

It is clear that the Scottish cultural landscape faces many challenges. It is also clear that that landscape is of great importance to many individuals and communities the length and breadth of Scotland. The landscape has many potential benefits for communities to harness, and they want to be empowered to do what they can. It is important for the Scottish Government to understand the logistics of that and work closely with partners, organisations and councils in a collective way to embrace the community culture that is vital for many individuals and organisations.

I hope that the Government will approach in good faith the recommendations in our committee’s report and will commit to playing its part in protecting this vital sector and the vital assets that communities have, because our society depends on that. Scottish culture is recognised the world over. Communities have a part to play in that, but so does the Government.


Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

As a committee member and on behalf of Scottish Labour, I am pleased to welcome the report, which highlights the benefits of a place-based approach to culture and the many challenges that its implementation faces.

The report is thorough and carefully considered, and I extend my sincere thanks to all who contributed to it, including the stakeholders who answered the call for views and provided evidence and the committee clerks, who did an excellent job of organising evidence sessions in Edinburgh, Orkney and Dumfries and of writing the report. I commend our convener, Clare Adamson, and fellow committee members for their constructive and collegiate approach. I also thank Sarah Boyack, who sat on the committee for Scottish Labour in the early phases.

Wellbeing, quality of life, physical health and mental health are all influenced by the quality of the places that we live in. I heard that yet again this lunch time in moving testimony from the recovery group from North Lanarkshire about using the power of music to tackle drug and alcohol addiction.

A place-based and community-led approach to service delivery, including cultural provision, has for some time been recognised as a useful framework that recognises that communities ought to be central to the delivery of creative activity in their areas, to ensure that that activity responds to distinct opportunities and challenges in different localities.

In that spirit, I pay tribute to organisations such as the Beacon arts centre in Greenock, which does tremendous work with young people in Inverclyde. I also pay tribute to the Bungalow bar in Paisley, which is an outstanding local venue that was recently named the best music-led venue in Scotland at the Scottish Licensed Trade News awards.

Our report notes that, despite many positive examples, the proper entrenchment of a place-based approach to culture is inadequate at present, and a huge amount of progress is required to make it a reality.

The report identifies a number of challenges

“for national public bodies and local government in delivering a place-based approach to culture where communities are central to shaping the cultural life of their place”.

The challenges are listed in the report as

“Supporting community-based cultural activity ... Funding culture in communities ... Providing and supporting local cultural services”


“Providing and protecting physical spaces in communities for cultural activity to take place in.”

The report rightly highlights, as has been mentioned, the “vital role of volunteers” in supporting community-led cultural activity. It is right, however, to acknowledge that such volunteering is “time and resource intensive”. As the convener said, the committee was concerned by the evidence that there might be

“disparities between communities who have greater time and resources to volunteer and those who do not”.

The committee’s view is that

“it is crucial for all communities across Scotland”

to be able

“to shape the cultural life of their places, and ... sustain the cultural activity which meets their needs.”

Ensuring that that happens is likely to involve the Scottish Government providing funding and support. The report rightly invites

“the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland to explore whether further support can be provided to protect and encourage the vital contribution of volunteers to culture”

in their communities, including the communities with the fewest resources.

The report highlights the culture collective programme as an excellent example of place-based cultural initiatives. The committee calls on the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland to set out how the programme’s legacy will be built on.

When it comes to protecting the future of local physical spaces for cultural activity, the committee rightly recognises that it is critically important that,

“For culture to thrive within communities, there must be spaces in which cultural activities can take place.”

The committee is, therefore, concerned that evidence has been received that

“some cultural and community assets are becoming less available, less affordable, and at risk of closure”,

including many churches, which, as Alexander Stewart said, provide a venue not just for worship but for culture.

I, too, urge the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland to take all the action that they can to protect local cultural spaces. I also commend the committee’s suggestion of considering a role for Creative Scotland in delivering a capital programme to support the refurbishment and upkeep of such spaces.

In relation to the provision and support of local cultural assets, the committee is right to note

“the essential role of local government in the delivery of a place-based approach to culture”.

Therefore, the report is right to note with concern what it politely terms as

“the funding challenges facing local government”.

It notes the enforced reduction of cultural spend by local authorities in the face of persistent cuts to council budgets over many years. I hope that the Scottish Government will reflect on that, as well as its spending commitments in the cultural sector.

The report highlights the importance of

“a ... joined-up approach between local government and national agencies”

and that

“further progress is required to improve collaboration.”

I echo the report’s call for a further update before the end of the year on what progress has been made on the commitment from the Scottish Government

“to work with Creative Scotland to map local authority support for culture and explore future models of collaboration between national and local bodies.”

The challenge of funding is an overarching concern that touches almost all areas of the report. Cultural activity and cultural life—place based and otherwise—rely on Scottish Government funding and support. Years of standstill funding and increased costs have created a situation of chronic underfunding and a sector at breaking point. There is an urgent need for investment, support and a new long-term culture strategy. Finally, as many stakeholders highlighted, there is also a need for funding to be placed on a sustainable footing.

I commend the report to the Parliament, and I hope that we can all work together to ensure that we support culture in our communities—now and into the future.

We move to the open debate, with speeches of up to six minutes.


Keith Brown (Clackmannanshire and Dunblane) (SNP)

I am a member of the committee but, unlike the previous speakers, I was not there during consideration of the report that we are discussing today, so I cannot speak with the same authority as them. However, I am absolutely on board with the place-based approach. In a culture debate a few weeks ago, I gave a number of examples of organisations in my constituency that take that approach, as well as stating the obvious, which is that we all want to see culture in Scotland thriving, and not just for economic reasons, which are very important, but because of the difference that it can make to people’s lives.

However, we need to be clear that, as was mentioned in the previous speech, the biggest obstacle in the way of the implementation of many of the recommendations in the report is the extremely limiting financial situation that we are in as a country, which the report rightly mentions. In my view, the current financial restraints that Scotland faces are perhaps the starkest that we have seen since this Parliament was established. We need to be really explicit with the people of Scotland. Bodies can all shout about sustainable multiyear funding, but if that is not what the Parliament is getting, how will we provide it? We must be serious about the challenges that we face.

The devolution settlements created a situation in which the UK Government still has control over the vast majority of Scotland’s finances. If the UK Government chooses to implement real-terms cuts, as it very often does, the Scottish Government must make difficult decisions to implement those cuts, either by cutting somewhere in the Scottish Government’s budget or by raising one of the few taxes for which the Scottish Government is responsible. Both those options are virtually always met with universal criticism from Opposition members.

On the point about local government, it is obviously constrained, but much less so in Scotland than it is in England or Wales. In England, there have been 40 per cent cuts to council budgets, and a number of councils have gone to the wall financially. We have not seen that in Scotland, although there is a difficult situation. We should acknowledge that and the impact that it has on a place-based approach to culture.

However, the Scottish Government has done, and it continues to do, what it can within the devolution settlement to support a place-based approach to culture in communities. I am also sure that the commitment to double funding for culture and the arts by £100 million over the next five years will play a part in furthering that approach.

The theme of the debate is challenges and opportunities. Although I have highlighted the challenges, I would also like to highlight the opportunities. Oddly, one of the side effects of austerity over the past 14 years has been the increase in community ownership of cultural assets, which we have seen across Scotland and which the report rightly highlights. During the summer, I visited Wimpy Park community garden in Alloa, which was recently taken over by Wimpy Park community group—a group of residents who had a vision and worked immensely hard to bring the garden to life. For members of the committee or anyone else who wants to visit it, I say that it is a real example of cultural empowerment in our communities—indeed, in one of our most deprived communities. That is absolutely to be commended.

The community garden is just one of a few examples in my Clackmannanshire and Dunblane constituency. Thanks, usually, to the work of immensely dedicated volunteers and community ownership, many formerly publicly owned spaces have taken on new roles in the community. Among many other such examples in my constituency, Tullibody Community Development Trust operates the civic centre in the town, the Dollar Community Development Trust operates the Hive in Dollar, the Dunblane Development Trust manages the Braeport Centre and—perhaps best of all—the Sauchie community group operates the Sauchie resource centre. All those facilities are used by their communities as spaces for culture, which is another important aspect of a place-based approach to culture, as is highlighted in the report.

I welcome the report. I will add that one of the most crucial aspects in delivering a place-based approach to culture in our communities is that we give the people in those places a significant role in developing and delivering services. However, as a Parliament, we need to be aware of the root causes of the significant financial challenges that face implementation of the recommendations in the report. We do not serve the people if we try to ignore the source of those financial constraints.

Austerity has been one of the biggest problems, but I will mention another that was brought home to me today during the committee session with touring musicians. It is in a different category, but it involves a very similar challenge. Brexit, largely, has caused a huge meltdown in their sector—we all heard the evidence. I asked the witnesses about the two scenarios that we were given about Brexit—one involved sunny uplands full of opportunity and no regulation; the other involved enormous economic and cultural self-harm. I can tell members that the latter characterises the experience of those touring musicians since Brexit. They also said that most of the factors that were causing them to suffer were predicted at the time of Brexit. We heard about the decimation of the Scottish culture sector in their area, and we heard about some Scottish artists having continued, but only if they could get an Irish passport. Those people are appearing at Irish events in Germany and elsewhere—not as Scottish artists but as Irish artists. That is the only way that they can continue.

It is as if a theatre curtain has come down on a vital part of our cultural heritage. Some people have lost their jobs and others have walked away from the sector, which is a loss to Scotland. An absolute crime is going on. The musicians laid the blame fairly and squarely at the door of Brexit, although, as we would expect them to do, they made requests of the Scottish Government about the support that it can provide. That is the reality of what our cultural sector is going through.

The news of the additional £100 million from the Government is very welcome, and I would endorse the request by some of the people whom we heard from today that some of that money finds its way to touring musicians, because that is so important for the international reputation of Scotland. It is how the rest of the world views us.

They also made the point, very fairly, that, grim as the situation is, Scotland is overendowed with talent and with artists who can enhance Scotland’s reputation. Therefore, my main appeal is that supporting that talent through the place-based approach that we are talking about today is done at the same time as we support culture and try to reverse the damage of Brexit, which has decimated our cultural sector.


Sharon Dowey (South Scotland) (Con)

I welcome this debate on the conclusions and recommendations in the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee’s report, “Culture in Communities: The challenges and opportunities in delivering a place-based approach”. I commend the members of the committee and the clerks for their work, and all those who contributed.

I will highlight two areas in particular that the committee’s report examined, which I believe need greater focus from the Government. My speech will discuss funding challenges for the cultural sector, and then I will move on to the need for the Government and its agencies to listen to local communities and empower them.

First, the committee looked in detail at funding issues in the culture sector. It heard from a National Museums Scotland spokesperson that

“The current financial climate is one of the toughest that the heritage and culture sector has ever faced.”

The Federation of Scottish Theatre said that organisations that deliver cultural work in communities

“are in an extremely precarious financial position.”

The committee’s report cited a Scottish Parliament information centre assessment, which found that the total grant funding for Creative Scotland in 2021-22 was about 10 per cent lower in real terms than it had been in 2014-15. The lack of funding from the SNP Government has been a real thorn in the side of the culture sector.

The problem is not only the lack of funding, but the inconsistency of its delivery. Even when it is announcing more funding for culture, the SNP has often managed to make a confusing mess of it. Last year, the SNP cut the budget for Creative Scotland by several million pounds. It then made a big announcement that it was restoring the funding. After patting itself on the back, the SNP then announced that it had changed its mind and that it was going to go ahead with cutting that funding. That flip-flopping does not help the culture sector to plan. How are organisations supposed to plan when the SNP U-turns on a U-turn on a U-turn?

Will the member take an intervention?

Sharon Dowey

No—time is short today.

The lack of certainty and stability makes those organisations’ lives very difficult. That is just one example, but the committee’s report looked at many other funding issues. In particular, the extremely short-term approach of culture policy came in for substantial criticism. Professor David Stevenson, who is the dean of the school of arts, social sciences and management at Queen Margaret University, said that the “biggest challenge” that the culture sector faces is

“a persistent and pernicious obsession with short-term project funding.”—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 27 April 2023; c 19.]

Scottish Ballet said that that approach created “a stop-start mechanism” and the Federation of Scottish Theatre also highlighted issues with the “inconsistency of funding”. Professor Stevenson said that, in other countries, there is

“much clearer understanding of how different elements of the funding landscape support different things.”—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 27 April 2023; c 19.]

I hope that the Government reflects on that and learns from the best examples of how other countries operate. I note that, earlier this year, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Angus Robertson, said that he was keen to work on a multiyear funding approach, and I hope that that work will conclude imminently. A clearer funding system would be very beneficial to the culture sector.

However, funding is not the only issue that needs to be addressed to promote culture more effectively in Scotland. The Government must also listen more closely to communities. As a point of principle, my party believes that local people are best placed to decide what is best for their community. We firmly support communities having more power to shape the cultural life in their own area. The best preservers and promoters of local heritage and cultural sites are the people in those areas. They must be empowered to take the lead themselves, free from the constraints of too much bureaucracy or too much imposition and top-down control from the Government. The role of the Government and councils must be to deliver the platform and environment that allow local communities to feel able to make a difference themselves. As things stand, the Government is not meeting its end of the bargain.

I return to Professor Stevenson’s evidence to the committee, in which he noted:

“we fall into thinking that there is a one-size-fits-all model”.

The report also notes his comments around the “danger” of helping individuals to overcome barriers to cultural participation only where they are

“barriers to the type of culture that we feel is valuable for them to take part in.”—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 27 April 2023; c2, 4.]

It was welcome in Creative Scotland’s evidence to the committee that it acknowledged that

“There are cases of what might be felt as, ‘We are doing good to communities—we are offering you something, so come and see it,’ without understanding what it can mean to the people and what the unmet need is in that community.”—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 8 June 2023; c 5.]

All the evidence seems to indicate that there is too much of a top-down approach to culture in Scotland at the moment. Local communities are often boxed into what cultural projects they get, which is not how things should be.

I hope that the Government will focus on improving how it co-operates and works with local communities, and I hope that it will address the inconsistency of funding, so that the culture sector can more effectively plan for the future.


Kaukab Stewart (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

I praise the work of the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee. A lot of work goes into taking evidence and producing committee reports. The result, in the case of the one that we are debating today, is a report that is informative and that, I hope, can guide the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government’s commitment to a place-based approach in our cultural strategy stands as a testament to the belief in empowering communities, fostering their engagement and weaving their stories into the very fabric of our national identity.

As a representative in the Scottish Parliament of the many communities of Glasgow Kelvin, it is clear to me that the affiliation that people have with the place to which they belong is important. It is about identity and belonging. It is about the overall welfare of communities and the people who live in them.

The strategy not only recognises the intrinsic value of cultural diversity but seeks to empower diverse local voices in weaving the cultural tartan of our nation. However, in navigating that, there are a great many challenges that we must be cognisant of and work together to resolve.

The economic landscape in which we live is littered with financial constraints, as my colleague Keith Brown has said. Those present formidable barriers to financing community-based cultural initiatives, nurturing local government cultural services and providing the essential spaces where cultural expression can flourish. Those challenges, although significant, present opportunities for strategic intervention and innovative solutions, aligning our endeavours with our collective aspirations.

From my perspective, as the member for Glasgow Kelvin, the culture strategy’s emphasis on community and place is pivotal. Many members will already be aware of the community victory over the Children’s Wood, which is in my constituency. The Children’s Wood is a fantastic outdoor community space; it is where I held my first surgery after being elected. Over a relentless 25-year campaign, teachers, climate advocates, local residents and even celebrities—one of whom was our late Queen—rallied to protect the Children’s Wood and North Kelvin Meadow. The grant of a community asset transfer by Glasgow City Council in 2020 signifies more than just land preservation; it symbolises the triumph of collective will and the validation of a community vision.

The success is not solely about land; it is about nurturing a communal heartbeat. The former chair of the Children’s Wood, Professor Niamh Stack, rightfully called it a “community anchor”, emphasising its pivotal role in current times. I frequently visit and join in with the wide variety of activities that take place there. I watch children and families running around and laughing, I hear the buzz of the bees from the hives that are kept there and I see the opportunities for toddlers and mums to get together to not only weave stories in the local environment but develop Scottish storytelling, among other things.

The agreement demonstrates a shared commitment to empowering communities and is a model for fostering the sustainable, playful and resilient communities that are especially vital after the challenges that we have faced. However, there remains an inherent need to more deeply integrate community culture in what we do. The Scottish Government’s commitment to empowerment mechanisms, such as the place principle, calls for a robust amplification of cultural voices at grass-roots level.

The committee’s inquiry into the matter unveils the positive strides that have been made in place-based cultural initiatives across communities. There is resounding recognition, from a diverse array of stakeholders, regarding the importance of that approach. That recognition is deeply rooted in the Scottish Government’s cultural strategy, which builds on long-standing ambitions and seeks to adopt place-based and community-led approaches to service delivery.

However, the inquiry’s findings also highlight the substantial hurdles that must be addressed in order to realise the aspirations that are set out in the strategy. Those challenges, which span both national and local spheres, require a whole-system approach and cohesive collaboration across the different layers of government, transcending partisan interests in order to overcome those hurdles for the collective betterment of our cultural landscape.

To be frank, more than a decade of austerity, polished off by economic turmoil at the hands of the Tory UK Government, has presented severe challenges to the implementation of place-based cultural policy. Those constraints affect the funding of community-based cultural organisations, the support for local government cultural services and the provision of the publicly owned community spaces that are vital for cultural activity. Despite the commendable emphasis on the role of communities and place within the culture strategy, there remains a pressing need for a more robust prioritisation of community culture to put that at the core of the sector.

The report is a call for the Scottish Government to act to address those challenges and to heed the committee’s findings and recommendations. The imminent finalisation of the refreshed culture strategy action plan later this year presents a critical opportunity to tackle the facets that will be essential to shaping Scotland’s cultural trajectory. I commend the report.


Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank the committee members who carried out the inquiry, those who gave evidence and the clerks and researchers for their work in distilling that evidence into the committee’s excellent report, which makes a timely and important contribution to the debate on the crucial role of the culture sector in our local communities.

I was particularly pleased that the committee took time to visit my home town of Dumfries, where members experienced an outstanding example of the place-based approach, taken by the Stove Network and genuinely shaped by the community.

I have had the privilege of working with the Stove Network since its inception more a decade ago, including in my role as local councillor when the council transferred the High Street base to the Stove in a community asset transfer. I have seen at first hand how that property has been developed into a cafe, a meeting place and an outstanding events venue, but it is what the people inside do that excites me. Those at the Stove have used arts and cultural activities to bring together diverse communities to drive positive, place-based solutions to challenges that people care about, such as the future of their town centre, using arts and culture not as an end in itself but as a means to deliver a wellbeing economy.

The Stove’s engagement with often underrepresented groups in some of most vulnerable communities on issues that are relevant to their lives ensures that those solutions are genuinely bottom up, not top down, which is an important principle that was stressed by Dumfries and Galloway Council in its submission to the committee.

It was that work by the Stove that led to the creation of the Midsteeple Quarter in Dumfries. A community benefit company took on the problem of absent landlords in the town centre, becoming the landlord itself, taking back our high street shop by shop, investing in neglected properties and using them for the benefit of the community.

The work of the Stove goes beyond Dumfries town centre. I know that the committee also visited Lochside—a community I am proud to say that I was brought up in—where members witnessed the Lift D&G project, which is also supporting and transforming the community. That project is community driven, using culture and the arts to build community confidence to take on and dispel the outdated and negative perception of the area and, in doing so, to change the perception that “culture’s not for me”.

The committee heard that one of the biggest barriers that the Stove and others faced with those projects was the outdated approach that is taken to how we fund culture and the arts. That approach is about performance, which is often professional, rather than participation; it is certainly not about community participation. That means that, when the Stove seeks support for its important cultural contribution to building the wellbeing economy, it often finds itself competing with wellbeing projects, such as food banks, for non-culture-based sources of funding, because the current silo model of Creative Scotland funding does not properly recognise cultural and community participation.

On the committee’s visit to Dumfries, members heard about the different approach that is taken in Ireland, where there are separate bodies and separate funding streams for participation and community-based practice. However, we do not have to look beyond Scotland to see that: sportscotland recognises the role that sport plays in our wellbeing, especially our health, and it provides separate funding streams for elite sport and for participation in sport. As the Stove said in its submission to the committee,

“In culture we do not have the ‘Participation’ strand, but only the ‘Elite’ one.”

The Government has said that it now intends to double culture spending, which I welcome, but I hope that, as it grows that budget, it will not be—it must not be—simply a case of more of the same. We need to better recognise the wider role of culture in delivering the wellbeing economy, and its preventative social impact on social isolation and mental health, by better ring fencing funding streams for community participation.

I also hope that the Government will look again at the geographical spread of funding. The focus on professional performance often means that a disproportionate amount goes towards big events in our cities. That often leaves events in peripheral communities, where margins are tighter, in a precarious position. Festivals and events are hugely important to my home region of Dumfries and Galloway, but in recent years we have lost major festivals. The Wickerman festival, the Electric Fields festival and the Big Burns Supper festival have been cancelled for this year, and the Eden festival has been scaled back, given the challenges of higher policing costs since the establishment of Police Scotland.

However, when new, developing events such as Music at the Multiverse have emerged in a bid to replace those that we have lost, they have not received the support that they needed from EventScotland and other national agencies in order to develop. In the three years since Music at the Multiverse began, studies have shown the important economic benefit that it brings to Upper Nithsdale, which is one of the most deprived parts of Scotland. It is clear that the potential exists to grow that contribution to make the visitor attraction of the Crawick Multiverse viable for the future, but that has not been recognised when it comes to support.

Likewise, as a result of the Scottish Government’s decision to remove winter festival funding in 2022 and the rejection—again—by EventScotland of an application from Dumfries and Galloway, sadly, the plug has been pulled and the curtain has fallen on the Big Burns Supper this year. That is a genuine grass-roots event that has transformed the lives of hundreds of young people who trained as the producers of the future. Ministers used to queue up to cut the ribbon at the opening of the Big Burns Supper. Now, sadly, the only cut that is being made by the Government is in the funding for the main event to celebrate the birthday of Scotland’s greatest cultural icon—all for the sake of £25,000.

That is a huge blow to the south of Scotland, and it shows that we still have a long way to go to properly recognise the value of grass-roots community participation events and to ensure that every part of Scotland is fairly supported in delivering them. That is why I very much welcome and thank the committee for its important contribution to the debate on tackling the issue.


Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, and I, too, put on record my thanks to the members and clerks of the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee for producing its comprehensive report on culture and communities.

Places and people underpin culture and communities across Scotland and generate a distinct sense of place, identity and confidence. Keith Brown was absolutely right to mention that supporting culture is not just about economics; people obtain so much value from cultural experiences. Evidence from the report consistently points to the need for integrated and co-ordinated action to deliver improvements for communities, rather than a focus that isolates social, economic or physical aspects.

The Scottish Government’s culture strategy action plan refresh will support the recovery and renewal of the culture sector through its focus on empowering individuals and communities to further develop their own cultural activity. I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has given that commitment, following the committee’s report.

Scotland is a place where culture is valued, protected and nurtured. Culture is woven through everyday life; it shapes and is shaped by society; and its transformative potential is experienced by everyone. Scotland’s rich cultural heritage and creativity of today is inspired by people and place. It enlivens every community and is celebrated around the world.

However, as the committee’s report acknowledges, we have challenges in the culture sector. I am all too aware of those from my constituency casework in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders. It is important to acknowledge that the Scottish Government is operating in an extremely challenging fiscal context. A combination of the impacts of Brexit, the aftermath of the pandemic and the energy crisis, which was fuelled by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, has sent prices spiralling upwards. In the light of that challenging context, the Scottish Government has been reviewing the actions that support its culture strategy. Although the aims and ambitions of the strategy are still relevant, the Scottish Government will publish a refreshed action plan later this year, setting out what it will do to respond to those challenges. That plan will include actions on how the Scottish Government will support culture and creativity in our communities and it will support them by identifying and removing barriers to access and by championing the economic impact of culture.

Although that is welcome, it is important to acknowledge the impact of the removal of much of the winter festivals funding, which has impacted the grass-roots-created Big Burns Supper. Colin Smyth has just outlined the challenges there. The 2024 festival has had to be cancelled. However, I have been working closely with the team at the Big Burns Supper, which is now in its 13th year, to support it, and I thank the minister for her engagement and advice to me so far. I am planning to convene a round-table discussion with the Big Burns Supper, EventScotland, Creative Scotland and additional key players to discuss how the Big Burns Supper and similar organisations could be better supported in future. That will include how organisations such as EventScotland could improve their communication should funding and other issues arise. I ask the minister whether she agrees that it is important for key people from those bodies to engage in such round-table discussions to support our creative and events sectors and to look to improve the support that is offered to them.

I want to highlight some of the key points from the committee evidence session that took place in Dumfries. I was pleased to be able to join committee members that day—Neil Bibby, Donald Cameron and Ben Macpherson, who was a member of the committee at the time—at three site meetings. We met representatives from the Stove Network, A’ the Airts in Sanquhar and representatives from Dumfries and Galloway Council and Lift D&G. Colin Smyth described well what the Stove Network and Lift do in our communities. I enjoy engaging with them, working with them and supporting them.

The committee heard that good place-based cultural policy involves empowering the local community to create a cultural offering that caters to its specific needs. Dumfries and Galloway Council provided evidence that, in order to overcome barriers to cultural participation, it is important to support communities to grow the cultural activities that they want, rather than taking a top-down approach.

Rural transport was flagged by all as a huge issue for people in the area, and a barrier to cultural participation. Since the pandemic, there has been more awareness of the need for a hybrid approach, recognising the need for direct human connection, but also keeping engaged those people who might not be able to travel to events in person. When the Big Burns Supper broadcast online during lockdown, it reached 300,000 people globally. It was excellent that it took to the online platform during the pandemic. We can learn from what we had to do while we were required to stay at home.

The work and support of South of Scotland Enterprise was discussed in positive terms. The agency has adopted a strategic overview and encouraged what was seen as a shift in the approach to community engagement and support for individual projects.

Stranraer oyster festival was cited as an example of where that engagement has worked really well. It is a grass-roots-organised festival that is held over two and a half days, and it has contributed £2.3 million to the local economy in this year alone. That is a complete local culture success; I know that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands will attest to that.

Finally, there are important recommendations—

Ms Harper, we have no time in hand. Could you bring your remarks to a close, please?

Okay—yes. I am in my final sentence. I welcome the committee’s report and the debate today.


Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

It has been an absolute privilege to sit on the committee during this inquiry. We had a unique opportunity to hear from an incredible array of cultural organisations and artists from across Scotland, ranging from grass-roots community arts groups to more established national charities and projects. However, it has, at times, been a pretty humbling experience. While we have spoken quite often about there being a perfect storm facing our cultural sector, it is quite another thing to actually hear at first hand the exact scale of the challenge that many of those organisations are facing. I therefore take the opportunity to thank all those who gave evidence to the inquiry.

Of course, culture does not happen exclusively in the programmes of national performing companies or in gallery spaces, hugely important though they are. Culture is also in the very fabric of our communities and civic spaces; in every community-led arts group up and down the country; and in hubs, such as Creative Stirling and the Whale Arts Agency, that bring creative projects together.

The work of those organisations is vital to our national cultural ecology, and they are everywhere we look. Those cultural spaces are where communities can come together to educate and organise. During the depths of the Covid crisis, it was often those organisations that helped to look after each other.

The evidence from Edinburgh’s cultural hubs in the inquiry was important. It underlined the fact that, even in a city where we have a big and profitable culture sector, communities can easily be left behind unless there is a commitment to partnership and to co-production. The community hubs want to be empowered to do amazing things, rather than just getting free tickets to fringe shows. It is often the makers, artists and other creatives who provide the spark for transformation and change, while providing support for the most vulnerable.

Radical Weavers in Stirling, for example, is helping survivors of trauma, including ex-servicemen, through weaving. It has also run a project to help trans and non-binary folk to alter clothing, building personal confidence and connection to a wider community. This lunchtime, we heard from other wonderful community organisations that are working on the rehabilitation and empowerment of vulnerable people.

The inquiry took the time to explore culture in communities in all its forms and in all its spaces. The consensus was clear: that the vision for place-based culture is clear, but it is a fragile ecology that needs to be protected and nurtured if it is to thrive.

The funding settlement that is given to the Scottish Government from Westminster does not keep pace with inflation and is forcing difficult choices to be made. When projects and organisations are already running on shoestring budgets, changes to funding can have a disproportionate impact on delivery. Standstill funding across the sector has ensured that many groups are trying to do more with less, and running costs for organisations are skyrocketing, while the need for affordable cultural activities continues to grow. Project-based funding has hollowed out community organisations’ finances, with many struggling to cover core costs and keep buildings running. Local authority arts and cultural services have been cut to the bone.

The committee’s report is clear: we must find a way forward that provides the financial security and certainty that our cultural sector needs, and we must do so with some urgency. I am pleased, therefore, that the First Minister has made the commitment to double cultural funding over the next five years, with increases starting from next year’s budget. Beyond bigger budget lines, however, we need to rethink the way in which the sector is funded in order to secure a sustainable future.

There are innovative financial levers that we can use, and some of them are already under development. We need a long-term strategy for culture that pivots away from stop-start funding towards multiyear budgets. The new Creative Scotland funding model will go some way towards that, allowing cultural organisations to do long-term community development work: to thrive, not just survive.

We also agreed that community-based organisations support the fulfilment of many of our key national outcomes across Government, and that our funding model should also reflect that. It is about understanding the wider benefits that culture brings, including through leveraging spending across Government portfolios for culture.

We know that the Scottish Government is still in the early days of considering cross-departmental budgeting for culture and preventative spend. We cannot sustain our cultural ecology from a single budget line and that work has to be accelerated. There are important lessons from Wales, where the Future Generations Commissioner has embedded that longer-term thinking about culture, place and the role of preventative spend in the public sector.

The report calls for innovation in cultural funding, such as a percentage for the arts scheme. We also looked at the potential use of the transient visitor levy and the importance of having a cultural voice at the table when councils are looking at how that is spent. We can see how percentage for the arts schemes have worked across the world, with the Netherlands, Ireland and the States redirecting funds for major developments into the arts. It is time that we developed more tools like that in Scotland under devolved powers—although I agree with Keith Brown that Ireland has turned into a cultural powerhouse because it is an independent country. It has the powers of a small independent nation and it has not severed its ties with the EU. It is integrated into the EU, which has driven its incredible work on culture.

The cultural strategy action plan later this year will be an important opportunity for the Scottish Government to set out a plan that delivers radical change for our community cultural sector. I hope to see the committee’s recommendations reflected in the action plan. I am excited to see what the new investment in the sector can deliver over the next five years.


Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

As a substitute member of the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, I am pleased to speak in this debate, which has offered us the opportunity to celebrate an amazing wealth of culture in our communities while thinking about how we respond to the many challenges culture faces that have already been outlined. It is about building on the opportunities that already exist and enabling local communities to shape what that looks like and make it sustainable in the longer term.

The fiscal landscape is very challenging, however. In that regard, I am pleased that the Scottish Government is refreshing the national culture strategy action plan, taking account of the way in which external factors such as the Covid-19 pandemic, rising energy prices and Brexit have impacted on our culture sector. I recall only too well meeting local creators in my constituency last year and hearing their deep concerns about whether they would be able to keep their studios open due to the sharp rise in energy prices and rental costs. Those challenges are very real and there is work for us to do.

The report produced by the committee is extremely comprehensive. It recognises that a place-based approach to culture is not new and considers a number of challenges in delivering local culture, including supporting cultural activity through, for example, volunteering, cultural provision and protecting spaces for culture. Personally, I found it an immensely helpful report in providing a reference point for what I and others should be thinking about in relation to how we support culture in our communities and regions.

The report reflects the importance of local networks to cultural ecology, and Deemouth Artist Studios, in my constituency, is a perfect example of that. It is home to artists, designers and makers with a strong relationship with Gray’s School of Art and community and cultural organisations. However, there is absolutely no doubt that the success of the studios has been a slow burn. It has been hard earned and the studios have faced many challenges, not the least of which is funding, as is highlighted in the report.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s recent announcement of almost £7 million to support the culture sector and, of course, the £100 million committed by the Scottish Government to the sector over the next five years, reflecting the real value that we place on culture in our communities at a time when the fiscal landscape has never been so challenging. I seek an assurance that the culture funding through, for example, the culture collective programme will continue to support grass-roots projects so that place-based culture such as the Torry Development Trust, the Doric festival and the North East Open Studios, in my constituency, can be sustained in the longer term.

Community assets are another issue that has been highlighted in the report. I note the on-going effort made in my constituency to secure the community asset transfer of a former police station that has recently closed so that it can become a community hub that will support culture. I recognise that a community asset transfer process is already available for that purpose, but I am concerned—and I think that I reflect the concerns of those who are involved in this particular transfer opportunity—that the process is less than user friendly for groups that are perhaps unfamiliar with what is required. Alexander Stewart raised that point. I hope that the Scottish Government responds to the committee’s recommendation that it engage with organisations in order to better understand what support can be provided around community ownership of assets, enabling them to realise their cultural potential in a truly place-based way.

I pay tribute to the volunteers and others who support culture in the justice space. In the Scottish Parliament, I recently hosted Aid & Abet, which is an organisation that supports the recovery of people who are leaving prison, and we celebrated the recent launch of “The Good Prison Officer”, which is a collection of reflections written by ex-prisoners about their experiences of prison. It is a fantastic example of how imprisonment has inadvertently led to a creative endeavour by bringing a group of people together to write about their life-changing relationships with prison officers. I also pay tribute to Scottish Prison Art and Creative Enterprise—SPACE—Art Scotland, Koestler Arts and the many projects and organisations that promote access to the creative arts for those who are subject to, and in, the justice system. Through exhibitions and creative interventions, those organisations harness the arts to support rehabilitation and recovery from alcohol and drug harm.

Some people may feel that culture in justice is a bit of a stretch in the context of place-based culture, but I disagree. Members only had to pop along to the culture in communities event in the Parliament this afternoon to hear the fantastic North Lanarkshire Recovery Community band, supported by Reeltime Music, to appreciate the utter value of that important work.

I thank the committee for securing the debate and allowing us to reflect on the content of an important report. I look forward to remaining involved and working for my constituents in this wonderful creative space.


Foysol Choudhury (Lothian) (Lab)

Place-based approaches to culture are vital. They enable communities to make decisions about culture that best suit the needs and wants of the local population and allow much-needed local engagement in Scotland’s culture. I welcome the announcement of an extra £100 million for the arts and culture budget and await further details of that. However, the report and the committee’s pre-budget scrutiny highlight that questions still need to be answered, given the dire situation that our culture sector faces.

As Karen Adam and Keith Brown rightly pointed out, we are in a difficult financial situation and the culture sector is feeling the brunt of it. I have been contacted by a number of organisations and event organisers whose future remains uncertain due to continued funding cuts in the arts. As a result, Scotland’s culture sector hangs in the balance. A straightforward and coherent approach to protecting Scotland’s unique culture and heritage is crucial. Cuts and short-term, project-based funding schemes jeopardise the ability of cultural programmes to reflect the communities that they serve. Our culture sector needs long-term, sustained funding. Community organisations cannot continue to operate while wondering when the next funding cuts will be, so long-term and continued funding is the only way that a place-based approach to culture in communities can work. Without it, community organisations cannot plan ahead, commit to cultural events or ensure the progress of culture in their own communities.

A successful place-based approach to culture must also address the individual needs of people in each community. The report rightly recognises the important role that volunteers play in supporting community-led cultural activities. However, Neil Bibby rightly pointed out the need to address the disparity when communities do not have the capacity or resources to sustain long-term volunteering.

In addition, the cultural needs of one community might not be the same as those of another. Scotland is a diverse place, so there must be a targeted approach to ensure that each community’s unique needs are being met. A place-based approach must also acknowledge the unique cultural heritage and history of individual communities. It must recognise the multicultural heritage and make-up of communities across Scotland and work towards meeting the needs of the many, not the few.

A place-based approach to culture is what best serves our communities, but that cannot be fully implemented without decision making being handed back to the local communities. Decentralisation will bring decision making closer to home and put it back into the hands of those who are directly impacted. Local communities know their own cultural needs best. By giving communities a choice and a say in shaping the cultural life of their communities, we will help to strengthen and improve multiculturalism and Scotland’s rich cultural heritage.

Finally, despite the Scottish Government’s commitments to culture, access to cultural spaces in communities is on the decline. Giving power to the communities to implement their own cultural activities will go nowhere if local spaces are not made available to bring them to life.

Alexander Stewart rightly pointed out that there is immense pressure on many community arts groups to rescue spaces that are used for community cultural activities. There are some success stories in that regard, such as North Edinburgh Arts, in my region, but the current crisis that the sector faces means that many community organisations’ spaces are still at threat of closure. That is particularly the case in deprived urban areas, where individuals may feel further removed from engaging in culture. We must ensure that spaces are open and maintained in order to allow communities to meet the cultural needs of individuals and to encourage everyone to engage in local cultural and arts settings.


Pam Gosal (West Scotland) (Con)

I am pleased to be able to contribute to today’s debate on how we can empower our communities to deliver a place-based approach. It is great to hear from around the chamber today that, if there is one thing that we all agree on, it is how important and valuable our cultural sector is.

Scotland is a country that is rich in cultural heritage. It is, therefore, not surprising that, in every corner of the country, we see communities approaching cultural projects in their own unique way. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the amazing work that is done by the great organisations and volunteers in my region, including the Milngavie Town Centre BID, which does great work in bringing the local community together with events such as Milngavie street party, merry Milngavie and many others.

I welcome the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee’s report, which sets out a way forward for a place-based approach to culture. I would also like to thank everybody who came along to provide evidence to the committee.

I hope that the Scottish Government will pay close attention to the report’s recommendations. The report speaks about the key role that local support networks play in our communities. It is important that we recognise the importance of the cultural ecosystem in communities. Local networks of community-based organisations are vital to the ecosystem, and we should not forget that those networks are often made up almost entirely of volunteers whose time and efforts are essential to the delivery of cultural projects.

Volunteer Scotland has highlighted that much of the work that volunteers do is unseen. That work is essential to community projects, but we need to recognise that not all communities have equal access to those local networks of support. The committee’s work revealed that communities in more deprived areas simply have less time to volunteer. In 2021, the Scottish household survey revealed that just 21 per cent of people in the most deprived areas were involved in volunteering in the previous 12 months, compared with 33 per cent in the least deprived areas. However, a community with fewer potential volunteers does not mean a community with fewer cultural needs. Cultural events can provide an important boost to people’s mental health and allow people to escape their everyday lives. That is just as true in one area as it is in the next.

We also know that many volunteer-led groups face significant financial challenges. Many of those groups are almost entirely self-funded, and more and more of them have to charge for their services. At the very least, that makes cultural activities even less accessible to communities with more deprivation; at worst, it makes many cultural projects unsustainable. The committee is therefore right to urge the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland to explore further avenues of support to protect and enhance those fantastic volunteer-led projects in our communities.

On that note, it is, of course, difficult to talk about support for cultural activities without discussing funding. As has been mentioned, today is not the time to rerun debates on local authority funding trends. However, it is a fact that local government funding has fallen in real terms over the past decade. It is therefore unsurprising that analysis by Audit Scotland shows that local government spending on cultural and leisure services has fallen by nearly 20 per cent since 2013.

Will the member take an intervention?

Pam Gosal

I do not think that I have enough time.

The committee was therefore right to recommend that the Government work with Creative Scotland, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and individual councils to assess the impact of the current physical environment on local cultural projects. I hope that the minister, in closing, will be able to comment further on that recommendation and on how the Government plans to address that decline.

Another barrier that prevents community groups from engaging in cultural projects is the red tape that they face. That is another issue that the committee was right to highlight. I hope that the Government can engage with Planning Aid Scotland to ensure that unnecessary bureaucracy does not prevent communities from pursuing cultural projects.

In conclusion, Scotland’s cultural landscape faces numerous challenges. Various public bodies have a role to play in tackling those issues, but the Scottish Government must play its part. I hope that it listens to what the cultural sector and the committee’s report tell it. We need clear assurances that the current decline in cultural spend will be reversed and a clear strategy for how our communities will be empowered to take forward the cultural projects that they choose. I hope that, with those steps, Scotland’s vibrant cultural landscape will be able to truly live up to its full potential.


The Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development (Christina McKelvie)

I thank my colleagues for their contributions and the committee, which is diligently chaired by Clare Adamson, for its detailed report.

I am very pleased that we have had the opportunity to discuss the importance of culture in our communities. Today, Clare Adamson hosted groups that have given evidence in our Parliament—the North Lanarkshire recovery group and Reeltime Music, which created a band that sang its own songs and gave us all a poignant rendition of “Stand by Me”. That is a nice note to take away from today.

I have listened with interest to all the contributions from across the chamber about the challenges and opportunities in delivering a place-based approach. As Creative Scotland has said, a good place-based cultural policy recognises the individual needs of people, communities and places, recognises the unique culture and heritage of individuals and communities, and responds to the ambition, need and challenges of each place.

We are a nation of storytellers. At the event that Clare Adamson chaired today, I loved hearing a spellbinding tale from Jane Mather, from her very own Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh—a salient tale about heeding the advice from yer mammy and yer granny. That aligns well with our ambitions for the culture strategy, and we remain fully committed to delivering at that standard for everyone in Scotland.

I will pick up on some points that Emma Harper and Colin Smyth raised about the Big Burns Supper. I have been in communication with the organisers of the Big Burns Supper, and Creative Scotland continues to have a relationship with Electric Theatre Workshop, which manages it. Creative Scotland is engaging with it to advise on any suitable funding routes. I thank Emma Harper: I am grateful for the work that she is doing to support the Big Burns Supper. I agree on the importance of the round table and the event, and I look forward to the response.

We have embodied such commitments through our support for programmes such as the Culture Collective, which we have heard a lot about today. For example, the Ayr Gaiety Culture Collective worked with partners including the violence reduction unit, Newton primary school and South Ayrshire Council to gather ideas about what the community needed and wanted. That came across very clearly today from the people from the recovery network and the band at Clare Adamson’s event—it was really important to them. One member told me about the importance of the music and said that it was life-saving. We should not underplay how powerful that is.

The work that we have done so far, and the work of the Culture Collective and others, has led to the development of community gardens, women’s groups and a range of summer activities for young people. That is one of the many opportunities that the programme created, and it demonstrates where Scottish Government support is fostering grass-roots community-developed initiatives. However, our support for culture and communities reaches far beyond our funded programmes. I am sure that everyone in the chamber would welcome the extra £100 million that was announced by our First Minister.

Along with the COSLA spokesperson for community wellbeing, Councillor Maureen Chalmers, I co-chair the culture conveners group. That group of elected officials shares the Scottish Government’s view that culture is of great importance to our communities across the country, and we are working with them to develop ways for local and national organisations to work together to further our shared priorities. We have heard many examples today of those contributions, and I hope that colleagues welcome that national and local government collaboration. We are exploring and discussing the provision of cultural services and the impacts of the cost crisis and of Brexit, as well as an accessible recovery.

I raised all those issues with Sir John Whittingdale a few weeks ago. Tories in this place cannot just blame the Scottish Government when most of the challenges that organisations such as those that I have mentioned face, and the responses to them, lie with the UK Government. We cannot get away from that fact. It has been clear that, to fully harness all the potential, we need to collaborate strategically across central and local government, using all the lessons, creativity, levers and comparative advantage that we can bring to the table.

Mark Ruskell and Colin Smyth described how Ireland funds its cultural organisation. That shows the power of a small independent nation with a budget surplus. Our cultural strategy sets our ambition that everyone should be able to experience the empowering potential of culture, wherever they live in Scotland. Mark Ruskell reminded us that cultural groups brought us all light in the dark days of Covid.

Alexander Stewart, Neil Bibby, Keith Brown, Colin Smyth and Audrey Nicoll all spoke about community ownership. We know that ownership and control of land and buildings is a powerful tool for communities to drive change and achieve their goals. It can help to develop the local economy, provide activities and services and boost community identity. Audrey Nicoll mentioned the challenges with the process. I hope that she will be interested to know that the Scottish Government launched a review of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 on 21 July 2022. Work to review the 2015 act is due to conclude in early 2024, with a report being made available. I hope that members take an active interest in that.

Place-based and community-based collaborations can be the very heartbeat of our local community, as we heard today. We also heard about cultural assets and the cultural programme, so let us look at those. Keith Brown and others spoke about funding constraints. The outlook for our capital budget is very challenging, with high inflation and a projected 6.7 per cent real-terms reduction in our capital funding over the medium term. To meet all the pressures and spending commitments in the investment pipeline, an additional £1.9 billion for 2024-25, £2.5 billion for 2025-26 and £2.8 billion for 2026-27 will be required, against a funding envelope of £5.9 billion. Those numbers speak for themselves.

I always enjoy listening to Foysol Choudhury. He brought up how diverse and multicultural our nation is, and the importance of including those aspects. Pam Gosal, too, raised those points in her contribution.

As the cabinet secretary mentioned, our refreshed cultural strategy action plan, which was developed through close engagement with the sector, will set out the actions that we will take to respond to challenges that we have heard about in the debate, including a place-based approach to culture. I will ensure that Foysol Choudhury’s request is considered in that regard.

The cabinet secretary also spoke about the new funding of £6.68 million that we announced this week, which was welcomed by many members, including Audrey Nicoll, in their contributions. I know that Keith Brown will be interested to hear that the impact of Brexit has been taken into account, because we have now committed that additional funding to our national performance companies touring fund.

There is agreement across the chamber on the importance of culture in our communities, and a recognition that we must collaborate to realise the full potential of place-based culture. Alexander Stewart asked the Scottish Government to approach the report’s recommendations in good faith. I certainly agree to do exactly that. We can all acknowledge culture’s unique power to inspire, enrich and transform lives not only for individuals but for the collective wellbeing of our communities.

Kaukab Stewart said that we are a richer nation for our weaving of our cultural tartan. I could not agree more. The debate has demonstrated that.

I call Donald Cameron to wind up the debate on behalf of the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee.


Donald Cameron (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

The debate has been wide ranging and helpful. I add my thanks to the committee’s clerks for all their work on its inquiry into culture in the communities and to all those who gave evidence. I thank, too, all the organisations that hosted visits from the committee, including the excellent ones that some members took part in to the Stove Network and Lift D&G in Dumfries, to the various venues here in Edinburgh and to Orkney.

Before I respond to members’ contributions I will expand on some other important aspects of our report, further to those raised by the committee’s convener in her opening speech.

Throughout our inquiry we sought to better understand the factors that either support or impede the development and growth of cultural activity in communities in Scotland. One view that we heard consistently was that there must be physical spaces in which cultural activities can take place. Those can include traditional venues such as theatres and cinemas, but also community assets such as village halls, community centres, schools, libraries and church buildings, which are equally important to our cultural ecology.

On our visit to Dumfries, we saw the vital role of the Stove Network building, which provides a cultural venue and meeting place on the high street and is somewhere to bring the community together to participate in culture. In Lochside, we visited the Lift D&G project space, which now operates as a community hub, having successfully moved into community ownership.

However, we have also been concerned to hear of a growing trend of cultural and community assets becoming less available, less affordable and at greater risk of closure. That will no doubt negatively impact on access to culture for the affected communities. Volunteer Scotland lamented the lack of affordable and accessible community venues. Fèisean nan Gàidheal said that unaffordable rental levels for community spaces such as school buildings present a very real threat to community cultural activities. Making Music said that the rationalisation of the church estate was proving a significant challenge for its members. Creative Lives expressed concerns about the longer-term viability of venues run by local councils or arm’s-length cultural trusts, which might be subject to closure as they face financial pressure.

Professor David Stevenson said that anguish was expressed over the closure of the Filmhouse but that the closure of community halls, which are the cornerstone of community culture, was being ignored. He told us that the impact of community spaces closing was even

“more significant in rural areas and smaller places, in terms of the effect of one space—one community hall—that had supported a multitude of cultural activities closing down.”—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 27 April 2023; c 13.]

We heard that there was a need to improve the mapping of assets at a local level to support better use of those assets, to improve understanding of the impact that individual site closures could have in the wider local context and to inform planning decisions. We heard that the Scottish Government should understand better which communities across Scotland have limited access to spaces for culture.

We considered community ownership as one possible route to keeping spaces open for use by the community. In her opening speech, the convener touched on the vital role of volunteers in sustaining community culture and the burden that that can place on individuals. We heard about similar challenges in relation to the community ownership of assets. That requires expertise, as well as volunteers’ time and resources, and high costs are often associated with managing and maintaining such spaces.

It was clear to us that community ownership cannot always be the answer to protecting cultural assets that are subject to closure. However, when it is a viable option, communities need to be provided with on-going support and advice.

Neil Bibby

We heard evidence about the importance of transport links and of having affordable and reliable public transport to get people to spaces where they can access cultural opportunities. Does Donald Cameron agree that we need to consider that in relation to access to cultural opportunities?

Donald Cameron

I absolutely agree. When Mr Bibby and I visited Dumfries with others, it was clear that rural transport was an issue and a barrier.

We considered the planning system’s role in protecting cultural and community assets, with the welcome inclusion of a new culture and creativity policy in national planning framework 4. Local place plans have an important role in enabling communities to make their views heard on cultural spaces and assets, but the committee thinks that further capacity building is needed to support communities to engage in the planning process and embed culture in their LPPs.

The importance of funding for culture in communities is a theme that permeates the committee’s report. As the convener said, the funding constraints in the current fiscal environment pose a significant challenge to the successful delivery of place-based cultural policy. Several organisations told the committee that their funding had been at a standstill for several years. That was underlined by Creative Scotland, which had previously told the committee that many organisations that it funds on a regular, multiyear basis have received unchanged funding levels for a number of years and that that is increasingly unviable, as it represents an increasing year-on-year cut for organisations.

Analysis by SPICe for the committee revealed that total grant funding for Creative Scotland in 2021-22 was approximately 10 per cent lower in real terms than in 2014-15. The committee heard about the impact of that on the sector’s ability to deliver cultural projects in communities. Caitlin Skinner, who is the chief executive of Stellar Quines, warned that

“the arts have been chronically underfunded and on standstill for so long”

that it

“creates a limit on what is possible.”—[Official Report, Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, 4 May 2023; c 17.]

The Federation of Scottish Theatre warned that organisations that are needed to deliver cultural work in communities

“are in an extremely precarious financial position.”

In our pre-budget report, which was published last week, the committee acknowledged that the First Minister has committed to increasing the Scottish Government’s investment in arts and culture by £100 million over the next five years. However, we await the detail of how that funding will be rolled out in each of the next five years and how it will be allocated in the culture budget. I acknowledge the comments that the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture made in the chamber yesterday and the further information that he imparted about the breakdown of the £6.68 million of Scottish Government funding.

In the brief minute that is left for my speech, I will mention a few of today’s contributions from across the chamber. One consistent theme was the importance of grass-roots development of culture and the importance of local people’s role in developing cultural services. That was mentioned by many members, including Neil Bibby, Keith Brown and Sharon Dowey.

Kaukab Stewart spoke about empowering communities and the identity of belonging. Many people spoke about their local experience, including Colin Smyth, who spoke about his experience of the Stove Network in Dumfries.

Mark Ruskell rightly spoke about how important it is—and how lucky we were—to meet such a wide array of people and hear about the scale of the challenge that they described. He spoke of the opportunity in the Scottish Government’s action plan later this year and the hope that that plan takes account of the committee’s recommendations.

Audrey Nicoll made an important point about community assets and spoke about a former police station in her constituency and about culture in the justice space.

Foysol Choudhury spoke about cultural needs differing in Scotland and said that, because Scotland is a diverse place, cultural needs differ from one community to another.

I wish that I could mention more contributions, but I simply do not have the time.

In conclusion, the committee report clearly sets out the number of distinct and unique challenges that currently face culture in communities in Scotland: the squeeze on funding; the pressure on volunteering; the affordability and availability of spaces for culture; and a lack of rural transport, which can all act as a barrier to cultural participation.

The committee hopes that the Scottish Government will now respond positively to those challenges to safeguard the future of culture in all our communities across Scotland.

I support the motion in the convener’s name.