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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 22, 2024


Urgent Question

Creative Scotland Funding (Rein Film Project)

Meghan Gallacher (Central Scotland) (Con)

To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that Creative Scotland was aware that the project, Rein, which received £76,196 of funding from the organisation, had scenes that were of a sexually explicit nature before awarding it funding.

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

As is right, judgments on individual applications to Creative Scotland are for that organisation, which is entirely at arm’s length from ministers. However, it is imperative that Creative Scotland can command the confidence of this Parliament, not least its Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee. That is why I called the chair and the chief executive in today, to make clear my expectation that they should make themselves available to the committee to fully and transparently answer any concerns that are put to them. They have given me the assurance that they will make that offer to the committee. They have also sought to assure me that new processes have been put in place to introduce safeguards to ensure that the recent issues are not repeated.

Meghan Gallacher

Creative Scotland knew back in March 2023 from Rein’s application that its project would include

“a sex scene with genital contact”

involving three members of its cast. In his letter of 16 April to the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee, the chief executive, Iain Munro, stated:

“as became clear in March 2024 when the project team developed new content for their website and publicised that as part of a call-out for participants, one new and significant difference emerged which took the project into unacceptable territory. That was the intention to include real sex, as opposed to performance depicting simulated sex, in the work.”

A freedom of information response that was released yesterday shows that that was completely untrue and that Rein was clear in its application in 2023 about what its theatre performance would contain. Can the culture secretary confirm unequivocally that he knew only yesterday that Creative Scotland lied to Parliament?

Angus Robertson

I can confirm that I saw the details of the material that was released following an FOI request only yesterday and that I had concerns about it. That is why I immediately asked the chairman and the chief executive of Creative Scotland to meet me this afternoon in the Scottish Parliament, which they did. I asked them to meet me because I knew that there was interest in the matter across the chamber. I have spoken to colleagues in all the political parties this afternoon to let them know that I have asked the chairman and the chief executive to come to answer detailed questions that can be put to them in the committee. No doubt Meghan Gallacher will do exactly that.

Meghan Gallacher

I am still concerned about the nature of the way in which the details have emerged. However, the truth has now been exposed, and tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money has potentially been lost. Given that the chief executive, Iain Munro, appears to have deliberately misled Parliament, MSPs and, of course, the boss of the Scottish National Party quango, does the cabinet secretary agree that his position is now untenable? If he agrees with me, why has he not sacked him already?

Angus Robertson

On a matter of employment law, the position of chief executive at Creative Scotland is a matter for the board. I am sure that the member knows that.

In the interim, I make the point that, where serious questions are to be asked, they should receive serious answers. That is why I pressed on both the chairman and the chief executive of Creative Scotland that they should fully avail themselves of the opportunity to speak to members of the committee, including Meghan Gallacher, so that they can be satisfied about the circumstances—which she clearly still has major concerns about—but, more than that, about what systems are in place now to ensure that no such project gets funding in the future.

I still do not believe that that answers the question. Does the cabinet secretary have faith in Creative Scotland? Does he have faith in the chief executive, Iain Munro—yes or no?

Angus Robertson

I have been given assurances today that the chief executive has the full support of the board of Creative Scotland. As a cabinet secretary who understands that it is not for the cabinet secretary to make such determinations for arm’s-length organisations, I think that there is still agreement across parties on that point—I hope that there is.

In these circumstances, where there are still questions to be answered, I am very keen that all members of Parliament, including Meghan Gallacher, are able to ask them, and I expect that the chairman and the chief executive will avail themselves of any opportunity to brief members of the committee.

Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

The apparent disparity between the recently obtained documents regarding the initial assessment of the funding application and the evidence that was later provided to the committee by Creative Scotland is deeply concerning, as is the apparent lack of transparency that there has been since this situation initially came to light. Given those concerns, what engagement has the cabinet secretary had with Creative Scotland with a view to fully understanding how the situation was allowed to transpire? What steps can be taken to restore trust in the organisation’s internal operations?

Angus Robertson

Having the concerns that I did, I acted immediately and invited the chairman and the chief executive of Creative Scotland to come to my office within a day to explain the circumstances and what course of action is being undertaken to ensure that such an example cannot happen again.

More than that, I want to give the members of Parliament who have the responsibility of serving on the committee that has oversight for culture the ability to ask any questions that they wish of Creative Scotland. I have asked Creative Scotland to make that offer, I expect that it will and I expect that members from across the chamber will be able to ask any questions that they see fit and relevant.

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

Libraries are closing, kids cannot get music lessons and festival funding is being cut. At the same time, Creative Scotland awarded tens of thousands of pounds of public funds for an extreme sex project. I demanded that the original application be published, because we needed full transparency. Now it appears that, despite Creative Scotland’s claims, explicit content was explicit in the application. The project should never have been awarded public funding in the first place.

In the information that was released yesterday, it appears that, as early as September 2022, within a month of funding being awarded, there were concerns within the agency about the project. Given what we know now, can the cabinet secretary explain how Creative Scotland can still maintain that the nature of the project had changed? Has he had an explanation from Creative Scotland about why warnings from within the organisation were ignored? Does he agree that the lack of transparency on this issue has been unacceptable?

Angus Robertson

First, it is for Creative Scotland to explain the decisions of Creative Scotland. I would have thought that that would be obvious to political parties that recognise the independent nature of arm’s-length organisations. I am not here to undermine something that, more than being a convention, is absolutely at the heart of how Government is supposed to operate.

Does that mean that I have not had concerns? No, it does not. I have had very serious concerns. Neil Bibby knows that, because I have spoken to him about it only today.

What I think is really important, in light of the assurances that I have been given, is that they are given to members right across the chamber. That includes Mr Bibby, who is a member of the committee. I have asked that Creative Scotland come before the committee. Mr Bibby will be able to ask any questions that he sees fit, and he will be able to take the consequences from the answers that he hears from Creative Scotland.

Ash Regan (Edinburgh Eastern) (Alba)

Can the cabinet secretary confirm what substantive steps the Government will take to rebuild public trust by ensuring full transparency and good governance across all organisations that are receiving Government funding, or will the Government just risk waiting for the media to uncover further scandals?

Angus Robertson

I have been given very clear undertakings about the changes that have taken place in Creative Scotland. This is the first example of its kind for a project that has been funded in the way that it has been funded. Creative Scotland agrees with the Government that it is an unacceptable situation, and it has already taken steps to change its processes. I expect the committee to be updated on those steps, and I assure members of Parliament who are not on the committee that the necessary changes in oversight and safeguards, the need for which the member rightly raises, will be shared with all members around the chamber.

I am sure that Creative Scotland has been listening very closely—although some people’s attention has been elsewhere at this particular time—to both the questions that have been posed and the answers that I have given.

That concludes the urgent question.