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Implementing the National Cultural Strategy

Draft Guidance to Local Authorities on implementation of the National Cultural Strategy

The UNISON Scotland Response

December 2002

  • UNISONScotland welcomes the importance given in the guidelines to the role of culture in our communities

  • UNISONScotland welcomes the recognition of the leadership role of local government in the cultural field and in partnerships that will be needed to deliver the National Strategy.

  • It is unfortunate that the recognition that there are few statutory obligations or national guidelines in the cultural arena has not led to clear recommendations to improve on this.

  • The continuing problems of reducing resources to local authorities are referred to but no way forward is identified

  • Continuing dependence on PFI/PPP and other privatised and outsourced projects will lead to increasing inflexibility, profit-driven initiatives and expensive facilities. All things that work against successful community-based cultural work.

  • The STUC/Scottish Government Protocol on PPP employment issues should be added as another item that local authorities must abide by.

  • There is in some places a failure to incorporate key stakeholders (especially community groups, service users and staff) into the partnership advice.

  • The absence of references to broadcasting show the error that was made in leaving broadcasting as a reserved, rather than devolved, matter.

  • We would urge a continuing dialogue on guidelines and improvements including all stakeholders.

UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to comment on this important document. As the union that represents staff in local authorities, other public service providers and the voluntary sector, we think we are uniquely placed to bring a number of perspectives to bear.

In addition to representing staff in Scotland's Education, Libraries, Museums, Theatres, Arts Development, Community Education, Therapeutic Arts and many other services, our members are also citizens of Scotland and keen consumers of culture.

UNISON is also a major supporter of arts and cultural activity across Scotland through sponsorship and practical support. Recent projects have included outreach drama work with domestic abuse groups; support for events at the Edinburgh Mela ; funding projects in the Orkney Festival, sponsorship of Glasgay! And many more.

1) A step forward

This is an important document for the delivery of the National Cultural Strategy because:-

  • In our comments on Celebrating Scotland we made clear our view that the role of culture/cultural services in the communities of Scotland was our central concern. We are pleased that this view is given considerable weight in the guidelines.
  • We also made clear our view of the key role of local authorities as Scotland's biggest provider and supporters of cultural activities. We welcome the recognition of that leadership role in the guidance.
  • Partnerships at all levels are also given a correct importance within the guidance and again, local authorities with their key role in community planning, social inclusion and ability to link cultural, education and commercial enterprises have a unique place in delivering these.
  • The guidance identifies some useful surveys eg the National Audit of Museums Collections and also examples of good practice. In an area weak in statutory obligations or other national guidelines, these are very useful.
We think that this role should be expanded and that the Scottish Executive or other bodies could usefully carry out or facilitate most surveys of service provision and possibly collect such useful information and publish it centrally.
  1. But with some problem areas

However, the guidance does not go far enough in a number of areas.

  • Whilst it recognises the falling resources that have been available for cultural activities through local authorities and suggests some ideas for attracting other funding, it does not deal with the root of the problem - the continuing problems of resourcing (local finance/staffing/training) that local authorities face.

It may be considered to be beyond the scope of such guidance, but a clear recommendation that authorities require sufficient resources to staff services with properly qualified and trained staff to enable quality services to be delivered would be a step forward.

  • Connected with this, the recognition of the lack of legislative obligation or indeed enforceable national standards in this area of cultural provision, is welcome. However, the guidance makes very little attempt to establish or encourage such standards in the provision of services. Compared with the examples quoted of the guidance provided by the Department of Media, Culture and Sport in England and Wales to local authorities on preparing a cultural strategy or in their role as inspectors of library services, the backup and encouragement in Scotland is weak.

The Guidance should suggest ways forward in establishing ‘bench marks' ‘standards' or even legal obligations in local authority delivery. (eg not all local authorities have attained the Standards for the Public Library Services first produced in 1986! Almost a quarter of local authorities do not employ an archivist!)

  • Problems of PFI/Privatisation/Trusts/Outsourcing: The guidance makes reference in a number of areas to the use of Trusts, PPP/PFI provision and the use of other external organisations to deliver cultural services that should be delivered in house.

UNISON recognises that external organisations have an important role to play in the cultural field, but we feel that the downside of ‘outsourcing' should be made clear. Many official, academic and other organisations have published evidence that which indicates PPP/PFI projects are more expensive and less flexible than public sector provision, that they replace public sector ethos with a profit-driven one; and that they place barriers in the way of partnership working.

  • There should also be clear reference made to the new protocol recently issued jointly by the Scottish Executive and the STUC which aims to eliminate lower wages, conditions and provisions being provided to PPP-employed staff.

The two-tier workforce where these problems apply still exists. Efforts should be made to ensure that the principles of this protocol are applied retrospectively as soon as can be done.

  • Whilst the guidance is good on the need for community planning and partnerships in the delivery of cultural services, it fails to recognise and incorporate some of the key stakeholders in this process. The lack of reference to the involvement of service users, citizens in general and in particular the staff who deliver these services is a major flaw in the exercise.
  • The lack of reference to one key area of cultural activity (ie broadcasting) emphasises the mistake in not including this area as a devolved function in the Scotland Act. Nevertheless it is clearly an area that local authorities should attempt to include in their partnership and community planning work and advice should be offered on ways to do this.

Comments on Key Issues

  1. Guidance on cultural matters and its importance
  2. It is particularly helpful to have guidance in cultural matters given the lack of consistent and comprehensive statutory provision and/or national standards or benchmarks. The document would be more helpful if these areas were covered and national guidance was provided.

  3. The Role of Councils
  4. The draft is very good at identifying and recognising the key role of councils and the survey of the range of activities is comprehensive although sometimes misses some areas (particularly their role in the provision of facilities in the communities - halls, community centres, school facilities etc).

  5. Definition of Culture
  6. A good, comprehensive definition, let down by the lack of reference to broadcasting. (see 2e above).

  7. Relevant advice or guidance missing?
  8. Not aware of any that is currently available but it would be useful to provide a list of what is available - separate from the references.

  9. Role of elected members/officers/management structures
  10. This is really a superficial survey of arrangements. It does not look at service quality in any depth and avoids much comment that could be useful (eg on the pros and cons of different management structures). It also takes no account of the downsides of the outsourcing of cultural provision, eg the lack of flexibility inherent in ‘contracting out' facilities.

  11. Partnership working
  12. This approaches the idea from a very ‘top-down' viewpoint. Listing as prospective partners ‘national' bodies and institution fails to take account of the need for community involvement and the need to involve staff within the sector (both local authority and other sectors).

  13. Other examples of good practice

There will undoubtedly be many other examples. One we are aware of is the outreach drama work of 7:84 Theatre Company. The Company has worked recently with GCC (and other authorities), local health trusts and voluntary organisations to produce drama with mental health service users (Out Here) and domestic abuse (Hostages to Fear).

Specific Corrections and Suggestions

Item no

3.1 could usefully include libraries, community centres, halls and galleries in the providers list.

Table B The provision of ‘cross-cutting' services should include local authority provision of facilities at local level - often the only facilities available in many areas.

3.5.3 replace the word "many" in line 2 by ‘some'. Charging for refreshments/shops etc is not a hugely significant funding option.

3.5.14 It is wrong to say councils ‘manage' services when they are ‘outsourced'. They may fund them or set criteria, but the management is done by the external body (Trust, Contractor, Voluntary organisation). The Scottish Executive itself recommends that no more than 25% of Trust Boards should be local authority appointees.

    1. To propose a ‘Best Value' case for outsourcing is too one-sided. It would be better to set down the criteria for ‘best value' - quality, effectiveness, efficiency, continuous improvement, focus on outcomes, and improving accountability - and to suggest that all service delivery arrangements should be considered - including the taking back in-house of previously external provision

3.6.5 There should be a reference to the need for local authorities to follow the newly published Scottish Executive/STUC protocol on employment issues for staff in PPP's.

4.1.3 Partners identified should include users/staff.

4.2 Again no local groups or staff included.

5.2.4 Mechanisms to be added should be ‘regular gathering of the views of user groups' and ‘consultation with trade unions representing staff'.

6.2.5 Again the reference to PPP's should include taking account of the recent Scottish Executive/STUC protocol.

6.6.14 There should here, be both reference to; including support for other languages used by Scots as part of their cultural heritage (eg Urdu, Hindi, Cantonese etc); and a reference to the need to integrate such provision into mainstream of services and cultural provision.

Revision and Monitoring

It is important that this guidance should be seen as a step along the road of reinforcing the key role of local authorities in cultural provision. To this end it would be useful if some clear process was set up in order that the effect of the guidance could be monitored and regular input made to updating and strengthening the guidance.

The executive is to be commended for the publication of this guidance, but it should be aware of the need to build on what is still a shaky base. UNISON would be happy to be involved in further consultation and/or even direct involvement in any groups discussing this area of the National Cultural Strategy.


For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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