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Fifty per cent of architects in the firing line as Russell bags culture portfolio

February 18 2009

Fifty per cent of architects in the firing line as Russell bags culture portfolio
Mike Russell, Scotland’s newly anointed Minister for Culture, settled into the ministerial hot seat today as host of an open forum which gave Scotland’s artistic and cultural community the chance to hob nob with the government head... and with rumours flying that up to 50% of Scotland’s architects could lose their jobs the seat was virtually incandescent.

A history littered with crushed optimism clearly hasn’t passed Russell by as he made his opening address: “We in Scotland have high hopes that rise up like rockets only to fall back like sticks”.  Certainly a mere matter of days into the post Russell is very much on an upward trajectory and is keen to use this honeymoon period to stress the measures he will effect to prevent the sticks from raining down upon him.

Praising the vacated presence of his predecessor, Linda Fabiani, Russell pointed out that: “Scotland’s cultural scene is fissured, fractured and fractious but with that also passionate."

Russell’s most pressing role is as overseer of Creative Scotland’s enhanced remit across the spectrum of creative industries, achieved with no correspondent budgetary increase: "It is too late now to turn back on Creative Scotland, a work in progress that will benefit all the creative sectors,”  he remarked.  A recurring refrain from the Minister during proceedings was an unabashed promotion of nationalism and the opportunity this afforded to increase government borrowings as a means of boosting the economy at a time of recession.  Income tax raising powers are regarded as essentially unusable.

Artists and creatives will be given the opportunity to sit on the board of the beefed up quango in a bid to prevent government dictat from filtering unchecked into funding arrangements.  Freedom of expression was professed to be of utmost concern as Russell acknowledged: “Creative Scotland needs to take risks, there is always a tension but this is good so long as both parties understand it.  Lets have a positive interaction, we need criticism.”

Russell is keen to put to bed the never ending palava over structures, now he claims is a time to put a line under those issues and focus on policy.  Specifically the Minister will concentrate on encouraging and sustaining creative enterprises, enhancing accessibility, granting opportunity for all and promoting local talent on the international arena.

It is hoped to achieve these objectives via a collaborative partnership with government aid supported by commercial sponsorship and grants, all geared up to trim backroom budgets in favour of frontline activity.  The ritual glossy brochure of government policy issued to herald the arrival of fresh top brass will be pulped prior to birth.  “We could bind and distribute the pile of prior brochures instead” Russell quipped.

Russell was at pains to stress that contributions made in the cultural sphere could be difficult to quantify in economic and statistical terms: “Feeding the soul is as important as feeding the body”, blandly opining that a strong culture will promote and attract people, jobs and investment on the global arena.

Nick Barley, Director of the Lighthouse, was less inhibited at bandying around stats and figures.  Quantifying the impact of the ongoing recession upon an architectural community which contributed £1.5 billion to the economy last year Barley quoted rumours that: “50% of architects are now or are about to become unemployed.”  Asking: “Can you give support?”

Russell responded: “I don’t know what solutions are being applied yet but we will pay close attention to putting in the bucks within the confines of what we have.  A government that cannot borrow in times of recession has a difficulty and the prospect of cutting budgets through 2010-12 is economic illiteracy.  I need a more intensive dialogue with yourself and architects, I have no experience in that area.”

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