Communities - key to delivering cultural rights
The UNISON Scotland Response to the consultation of the Cultural
- It is important that any strategic overview makes accessibility
a major priority, and that local funders address the issue of
accessibility in any projects they fund.
- If we are serious about peoples 'rights' to culture the Scottish
Executive will need to both broaden and strengthen the obligations
on local authorities to provide cultural services - and provide
the appropriate resources for them to carry this out.
- Local authorities are therefore central to the success of
cultural rights and developing talent. This position should
be recognised in the cultural commission's report, and support
should be given for their lead role in the community.
- Current in-house local authority cultural provision should
be maintained, and a survey to investigate any further role
should be undertaken, working to increase joined-up provision,
not the further fragment it.
- Locally based partnerships should be formed to break down
barriers between organisations in the communities and to reflect
the local demands for cultural provision
UNISON welcomes the opportunity to submit its views
to the Cultural Commission.
UNISON is Scotland's largest public service union,
with members working in many disparate parts of Scotland's cultural
life, from voluntary arts projects to Scotland's major theatres;
from education to sport and leisure; from community and therapeutic
arts to library and information provision; and from archives to
UNISON has responded to previous discussions and policy
documents on Scotland's cultural life and takes a full part in supporting
cultural projects - in particular those aimed at increasing accessibility,
and broadening the audience for arts and culture.
Therefore we would like to submit these views from
both a provider and supporter perspective.
The concept of cultural rights, the right to access
and excellence in our diverse culture, has been much discussed since
the First Minister raised it on St Andrew's Day 2003.
UNISON welcomes this concept and the idea that
everyone has an entitlement to have their cultural rights delivered.
However there are difficulties in providing this right
as things currently stand; -problems of access and provision.
Both geographical and deprivation problems mean that
many areas of the country are not well provided. There is little
'right' to watch a play being performed in the centre of one of
our cities if you live in a remote rural area; or have a disability
that means you cannot physically get into, or see the performance;
or are economically unable to afford to travel to the venue from
an outlying housing estate.
It is important therefore that both the strategic
overview makes accessibility a major priority, and that local funders
address the issue of accessibility in any projects they fund.
Statutory provision and resources
The other problem with the idea of a 'right' to culture,
is how that 'right' is to be claimed and enforced. Currently the
levels of statutory standards in the cultural area are both vague
and patchy. With the exception of some statutory requirements to
provide 'adequate' levels of public library provision, and curricula
requirements in formal education it is difficult to identify much
else. This has led to varying levels of cultural provision by local
authorities across the country.
It was particularly the case when local authority
budgets were being savagely cut in the seventies and eighties, that
services with no statutory minima bore the brunt of attempts to
save money. This lead to reduced opening hours of facilities, increased
charges, failure to maintain buildings and reduced grants to arts
We suggest that if we are serious about peoples
'rights' to culture the Scottish Executive will need to both broaden
and strengthen the obligations on local authorities to provide cultural
services - and provide the appropriate resources for them to carry
Community - central to cultural rights
It is clear that if a right to culture is to be successful,
it will need to be successful at a community level. Most if not
all, of the benefits of cultural involvement can be addressed most
successfully by addressing the issue of people becoming involved
in the cultural life of their community. Get that involvement and
you will have a dynamic innovative and civilising culture, contributing
to the educational and economic development of that community; involving
people and creating an identity.
Local authorities should have a leading role in this.
They already have the lead role in community planning, and they
have recently been granted a power to advance well-being. They currently
run a number of services that are important in terms of access to
culture, including education, libraries and museums, and cultural
services generally. They operate halls and theatres in communities
across Scotland, and back a bewildering array of cultural provision
via grants and support.
We welcome the commissioning of a review into local
authority culture and leisure provision and look forward to its
publication. We are somewhat disappointed however that UNISON -
the major local government trade union - was not consulted as part
of this review.
Local authorities can provide the links between education,
cultural provision, technical support and commercial creative industries.
To do all this successfully and across Scotland, two
things need to be put in place.
- The kind of statutory guidance/enforcement of rights already
referred to needs to be addressed
- Further fragmentation of local cultural provision would be
threatened by attempts to hive off local authority responsibilities
to trusts, central government or private business, and UNISON
would strongly suggest that cultural provision and support currently
provided by local authorities should remain as a local authority
function. Indeed a survey to see whether other cultural functions
could be included as part of local authority statutory duties
would be useful.
Local authorities are therefore central to the
success of cultural rights and developing talent. This position
should be recognised in the cultural commission's report, and support
should be given for their lead role in the community.
Current in-house local authority cultural provision
should be maintained, and a survey to investigate any further role
should be undertaken, working to increase joined-up provision, not
to further fragment it.
It is however the case that cultural provision is
provided by a huge variety of providers, funded at both local and
national level. At one level this is a potential benefit, but the
need to cut out cross-funding and duplication suggests that some
kind of partnership between organisations (funders, providers and
consumers) is needed - both at a local and national level. Local
bodies would need to be geographically appropriate to different
areas of Scotland, and should include the public and private sector,
community and voluntary groups, and artists - both as individuals
These bodies should discuss, research and plan the
cultural provision that is right for their area, and might be given
a responsibility to award funding to cultural providers on a grant
basis. This could be funded by local authorities working within
national strategic guidelines and resourced by the Scottish Executive
or national agency.
It should be part of local authorities lead role to
lead these bodies.
Locally based partnerships should be formed to break
down barriers between organisations in the communities and to reflect
the local demands for cultural provision
National Cultural Strategy and a strategic agency
In a previous submission, UNISON welcomed the idea
of a National Cultural Strategy to give some cohesion to the huge
number and diversity of cultural agencies, providers and funders
We are still of that view and are clearly aware
that such a strategy tends to suggest the need for a national body
to co-ordinate, develop, and monitor it.
We are not strongly inclined to lay down exactly how
such a body should be structured, but would suggest that two tests
should be adopted to measure any proposed structures against.
- The Strategic Body should be clearly democratically accountable
to Scotland's political networks, responsible ultimately to
the Scottish Parliament.
- The Strategic Body should have built into its structure; ways
to ensure the input of cultural service providers and practitioners
at all levels.
We do not feel however that it is necessarily the
case that all arts funding should flow through this body. Indeed
there is some advantage in having a multiplicity of funders in the
cultural world, to allow different areas to react to different agendas.
However it will be important to ensure that provision achieves the
objectives outlined by both the First Minister and the Minister
for Tourism, Culture and Sport, and that the people of Scotland
are able to access their rights to excellent cultural provision.
This is another argument for some strategic overview.
The requirement of some kind of national structure
is also suggested by the role of national companies. It seems sensible
to recognise that Scottish-wide provision will need to be funded
at a Scottish level - at least in the short-term. The role of national
bodies such as the National Theatre is unlikely to remove that requirement
- especially for artforms not covered by such bodies.
The concept of cultural rights should be supported,
and can only be delivered at community level. Local authorities
have a key role in providing and funding local cultural provision
and should have statutory and structural back-up to carry out a
This should be delivered by partnerships at local
level and a national strategic overview.
For Further Information Please Contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835
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