As the axe falls on Scotland, our cultural tsars are working for Moscow



The summer board meeting of Culture and Sport Glasgow (CSG), the ‘arm’s-length organisation’ set up by the city council, should have been an uncomfortable experience for some of those attending, including the former presiding officer of the Scottish parliament George Reid, the social entrepreneur (and Scottish Big Issue founder) Mel Young, and the philanthropist Lord Macfarlane of Bearsden.     
     The meeting took place against the background of growing unrest among the thousands of staff employed by CSG and in the wake a series of strikes organised by the media and entertainment union BECTU with the aim of disrupting arts and sports events in Glasgow. It was reported to the board – I have the minute in front of me – that ‘the recent meeting with trade unions had not reached a satisfactory conclusion’ but noted that despite the recent action ‘a number of facilities had been kept open’ and that ‘specific events and facilities were being targeted, but it was still hoped to deliver services’. The board ‘indicated support for the chief executive and senior management team for the handling of the industrial action’.
     At the same meeting, it was agreed to have a board ‘Away Day’ – whatever that means – ‘to discuss in detail the way forward for the company’ in the light of the expected ‘significant reduction in budgets over the next three years’; and it was further reported that ‘senior management were involved in scenario planning sessions in the light of this’.
     If this unhappy state of affairs – a restless workforce combined with the prospect of serious cuts – did not make the senior Scottish politician, the social entrepreneur and the philanthropist wriggle in their seats, what would? The shock waves no doubt lapped uninvitingly on the adjoining shore occupied by CSG’s trading arm, whose board members include Dr Kenneth Chrystie, ‘one of Scotland’s leading commercial lawyers’; Seumas MacInnes, a restaurateur; Ed Crozier of Whisky Galore Films, who combines a background in financial services with a career in film and drama production; and Flora Martin, a PR woman described by a trade magazine as ‘the Iron Lady of Glasgow’.
     Among this non-executive assortment of lawyers and money men, cafe owners and iron ladies, the only voices not represented are those of the Glasgow working-class (perhaps the councillors on the board are expected to fill this awkward gap) and those of the city’s artistic and sporting establishments (although it is true that Mr Crozier is a rugby referee in his spare time; may that count?). CSG’s critics – there appears to be more than a few lurking around – complain that an unelected and unaccountable board has been allowed to assume control of the city’s cultural assets and that its vision is essentially driven by what the arts can do for the economy rather than what they can do for our souls. The same complaint is, of course, levelled at Creative Scotland.

‘We are, to put it mildly, concerned about senior management boasting about how they missed watching something in India because they were booking into a Moscow hotel so that they could assist a private company with its pitch.’

     It seems doubtful whether the frontline staff who look after Glasgow’s libraries, museums, theatres and sports centres have the luxury of worrying their heads over such philosophical concerns. For the usual reasons of self-protection, the people employed by CSG who have been contacting SR in recent weeks wish to remain anonymous. ‘We wait nervously for news of cuts, reductions in hours and closures,’ writes one. And while they wait, they read of the more exciting life of Mark O’Neill, CSG’s director of policy, research and development.
     A recent contribution by Mr O’Neill to an electronic newsletter distributed to CSG staff has had what might tactfully be described as mixed reviews in the canteen.
     Mr O’Neill writes:

     I was probably one of the few Glasgow Life [the ‘customer facing brand’ of CSG] staff who didn’t watch the Delhi Flag handover ceremony live. My excuse was that it wasn’t being shown in the hotel at which I was staying in Moscow. The global reach of Glasgow Life is reflected in the fact that while some staff were in India delivering one major project, I was in Russia bidding for another!
     The design company which worked on the displays at Kelvingrove and the Riverside Museum (Event Communications) were bidding for a contract for the renewal of Moscow’s Polytechnic Museum (the Russian national museum of science and technology). As we have undertaken similar work in the past, Event asked us to join the bid team…
     The interview (or ‘pitch’ as I must learn to call it) was daunting. It was to a jury of 16 leading Russian experts and politicians, with simultaneous translation. We were up against some stiff competition, including the two largest museum design companies in the world.
     After an hour and a half tense waiting, we were called back to hear the jury’s decision. It was fantastic to hear we had won the contract, tempered by the realisation that we now had to deliver – a complete masterplan for a huge museum that would usually take about a year. We have 17 weeks!

     This exclamatory prose has not gone down well in the less glamorous world of Glasgow local libraries and sports centres, where staff are unimpressed by Mr O’Neill’s assurances that the successful ‘pitch’ (as we must learn to call it) will bring glory to Glasgow and put some useful consultancy money into the coffers of Culture and Sport Glasgow.
    As one disgruntled staffer told SR: ‘We are, to put it mildly, concerned about senior management boasting about how they missed watching something in India because they were booking into a Moscow hotel so that they could assist a private company [based in London and Dublin] with its pitch. Frontline staff watch their workplaces suffer through lack of maintenance and proper staffing numbers while management tell them that Glasgow Life’s international reputation is more important. Wouldn’t senior management be better employed running the Glasgow facilities it is already responsible for?’
     One for the Away Day, perhaps.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Kenneth Roy.

Read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review.