Creative Scotland criticised for ‘midden accounting’ and ‘absence of budgeting’

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A leading musician has told Holyrood that Creative Scotland’s “midden accounting” is hurting Scotland’s arts scene.

Ken Mathieson, who founded his Classic Jazz Orchestra 15 years ago, complained that an “absence of budgeting” by the arts funding body made “everything totally unpredictable”.

He told MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Culture Committee that rather than having financial support for different types of arts divided into different funding pots, it was a “free for all”.

Meanwhile, David Leddy, writer and director of the Fire Exit theatre company, said that former Creative Scotland chief executive Janet Archer had told him the arts body was “not very good at funding art”.

Fire Exit is due to close at the end of June after 17 years, after Creative Scotland cut its funding.

Mr Leddy told MSPs he had tried to find out why this had happened, saying: “We had a three-and-a-half hour long meeting where we asked 20 times for an explanation and they refused to tell us.”

He added: “I had a meeting with Creative Scotland, where Janet Archer said to me ‘I don’t think as an organisation Creative Scotland is very good at funding art’.

“I said ‘Don’t you think that’s the most damning thing that the head of an arts body could say?’ and she shrugged and said ‘I suppose so’. I think that’s very revealing.”

Mr Mathieson spoke out about “the way the absence of budgeting” by Creative Scotland “impinges on all of this”.

The jazz musician told MSPs he had only managed to survive as a professional musician by also being an accountant.

He added: “The upshot is that I have had from two successive heads of music that there is no budgeting, there is a pot, it’s not subdivided into genres, it’s not subdivided into specific arts type like theatre, music, etc, never mind all the sub-genres that exist in all the panopoly of the arts.

“That, to me as an accountant, is just madness, you couldn’t run a sweetie shop like that, but it hits every one of us in the arts by making everything totally unpredictable.

“It turns what should be a budgeting and allocation exercise into a free-for-all for the entire arts community, first come first served, loudest voice, that’s how it works.

“It’s what is known in accounting circles as midden accounting – you shovel the money and nobody knows what is in there, they know the amount is in there but they don’t know what it is for, then they shovel some out at the end.

“Then, suddenly, you apply for touring funding or project funding towards the end of the financial year because an opportunity has arisen and there is no money left.”

He told how his orchestra had been successful with its first two funding applications to Creative Scotland but had its third “dismissed as just being more of the same”.

While he said Creative Scotland wanted funding recipients to take arts outside the central belt, he argued: “It’s easier get a job for an eight-piece band in Glasgow or Edinburgh than it is in Inverness, or Nairn or Helmsdale or any place outside the central belt.”

As a result, he said his band had gone from having 25 shows lined up to just six in the space of year.

“Nobody can live on six performance fees a year,” he stated.

Mr Mathieson continued: “I had a meeting with Creative Scotland with the new head of music and the jazz representative in that department, and we went through it all. I was given all sorts of things I should address, I was encouraged to reapply, and asked to address certain points.

“All of those points had actually been covered in fine detail on the application, they just hadn’t recognised and understood it.

“So, I then have to question how capable, how much knowledge do the people who are doing the assessments, actually have about the genres and the actual life of a working artist.”

A spokeswoman for Creative Scotland said: “We fully support the knowledge and expertise of staff across the organisation and are confident in their ability to contribute to the funding decision making process.”

She said the evidence heard by the committee was “valuable in informing our current funding review”.

This includes a “nationwide public consultation on a future funding approach to make the most effective use of the limited resources available and help support a thriving creative life in Scotland”, the spokeswoman said.

She said the arts body was “disappointed to learn of Fire Exit’s decision to close”, saying that while it had applied for funding for the period 2018-21 “in a competitive process and within the limits of funds available, we were unable to support them”.

She added: “In the last round of regular funding in 2018, we were able to support 121 organisations (to the value of £102 million) when there were 186 applications requesting £154 million.

“Creative Scotland recognises the challenge of being able to support all projects of quality and ambition within the limited resources available.”

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