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Scottish Parliament condemns Creative Scotland funding process

Janet Archer, formerly chief executive of Creative Scotland

The Scottish Parliament’s culture committee has labelled evidence given to it by Creative Scotland earlier this week [1] as “unconvincing”, and said its funding process needs further scrutiny.

The Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee called Creative Scotland’s chief executive Janet Archer and former interim chair Ben Thomson to a meeting on February 22 to respond to criticism of its decision-making process.

Committee convener Joan McAlpine said it had been “absolutely astonished” at the number of organisations that had contacted it in the week prior to the session to express their views about the funding process introduced by Creative Scotland.

She said: “We’ve heard of inaccuracies during the evaluation of funding applications, last-minute changes to decisions, and instances where Creative Scotland reversed decisions for some organisations but not for others – without giving any explanation whatsoever.

“We’ve also heard about a lack of input from the sector and reports of poor communication both before and after the decisions were announced.”

McAlpine added: “It is deeply worrying that these concerns are being expressed about an organisation that manages public funds and we believe that it requires further scrutiny.”

In January, 20 arts organisations were removed from Creative Scotland’s Regularly Funded Organisation network [2], prompting outcry and the resignations of two of the body’s board members [3]. Five companies subsequently had their funding restored [4] following an emergency meeting.

Commenting on the evidence given to the committee, McAlpine said: “There were a number of concerning revelations, notably that the theatre touring fund, which was used to justify cuts to companies, has not in fact been signed off by the board.

“The former interim chair also admitted the board had not unanimously approved the funding decisions, as previously stated.”

“We were also concerned to hear that while Janet Archer admitted the failings of the RFO process and was reviewing it, there was no commitment to an independent external review.”

Deputy convener Claire Baker said that the explanations from Archer and Thomson were “unconvincing for the committee”.

She said: “There has been a distinct lack of consistency and transparency and it’s clear that there are voices in the sector who have lost confidence in the process followed by Creative Scotland.

“There also appears to be very little progress in addressing the poor geographical spread of funded organisations, despite these concerns being highlighted in 2014.”

David Leddy, artistic director of Fire Exit, one of the companies removed from the RFO network, also called into question Creative Scotland’s evidence to the committee.

In a statement issued after the meeting, Leddy said: “We’re confused that Ben Thomson claimed Creative Scotland’s board did not know about factual inaccuracies in assessment reports.

“We directly emailed each of the individual board members on February 1, 2018, in advance of their emergency meeting, and informed them that our report was factually inaccurate.”

He added: “Three years ago, Fire Exit raised serious concerns with senior management about factual inaccuracies in our report and were told not to worry about it because we had received our funding at the time.”