National Partnership for Culture minutes: 4 November 2020

Minutes from the meeting of the National Partnership for Culture held on 4 November 2020.

Attendees and apologies


  • Joanna Baker (Chair)
  • Angiolina Foster
  • Robert Softley Gale
  • Heather Stuart
  • Jeffrey Sharkey
  • Alan McFarlane
  • Briana Pegado (from agenda item 3)
  • Matt Baker
  • David Stevenson 


  • Darren McGarvey
  • Agnes Rennie
  • Hope Dickson Leach
  • David Greig
  • Nicola Killean

Also in attendance 

  • Linda Irvine Fitzpatrick (Strategic Programme Manager for NHS Lothian & Senior Research Fellow Queen Margaret University – agenda item 5)
  • Diane McLafferty (SG)
  • James McNulty (SG Secretariat)
  • Donna Stewart (SG Secretariat)
  • Kelly Millar (SG Secretariat)

Items and actions

1. Welcome

Joanna Baker (JB) welcomed attendees and shared apologies from those unable to attend. She advised members that Agnes Rennie (AR) had formally resigned from the group due to competing work priorities but that JB was hopeful AR could still be called on for her expert input on an ad hoc basis. JB also undertook to speak to Darren McGarvey outwith the meeting about his membership of the group. JB indicated that current members would be consulted about any new members when vacancies arise.

Action: JB and officials to discuss filling vacancies left by out-going members

2. Context for culture sector renewal

To set the scene for later agenda items, James Mcnulty (JM) provided a recap on recent developments across the culture sector including emergency funding, Scottish Government’s Programme for Government and The Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee debate held on 03 November 2020.

In response to a question from DS, JM stated that he was not aware of any work having been done to date on any future analytical programme around longer-term needs. DS reflected on the role of Creative Scotland in the current crisis and noted that, understandably, they are currently focussed on the distribution of emergency funding and that, in any case, their remit does not cover all of the sectors covered by the Culture Strategy. DS suggested that the sector needed to take the lead on doing some longer-term planning and to break down silos.

A discussion followed about cultural leadership, the need for a clear policy remit and the relative roles of the NPC and Measuring Change Groups and sector organisations as well as SG. JB emphasised that the NPC has a clear remit as an advisory body and is not part of the sector infrastructure. JB added that the NPC is not taking over from funding organisations, for example, and that the group needs to be careful not to be perceived as decision-makers in this regard.

Diane McLafferty (DM) acknowledged the huge efforts that organisations like Creative Scotland have been making to address the immediate crisis by identifying and distributing emergency funding and stressed that they have also been thinking beyond the current response. DM added that as part of the ongoing approach to gain cross-policy funding support for culture, Ms Hyslop has expressly stated that she is interested in the perspectives of the NPC and Creative Scotland among others.

3. Culture sector renewal: next steps

JB introduced paper 1, which set out the proposed work plan and priorities for the NPC. JB explained that the paper had been drafted to enable members to consider what the NPC needs to focus on, striking a balance between current circumstances and longer-term priorities. JB noted that the NPC had not been originally conceived to deal with the response to the pandemic but acknowledged that the NPC, nevertheless, has an important role to play in recovery planning. The proposed NPC work plan includes provision of strategic advice on arts in education (including skills), wellbeing (particularly mental health), fair work and measuring change as well as advising on how best to promote sector recovery.

JB welcomed thoughts on how the NPC can make the most effective contribution and reflected previous NPC discussions around gathering and leading input from the sector in the form of a summit. JB cited other options around partnering and stated that the NPC should consider how it might support thinking around emergency funding choices, present cases for different funding models, as well as influence cross-cutting and joined up government thinking using the Culture Strategy as a key driver. JB noted the principles in the paper that would be embedded across all activity particularly around equality, diversity and inclusion. JB invited discussion from members about whether these are the right areas for the NPC to focus on, whether members support the paper and their thoughts on how the NPC can deliver effectively on those priorities.

  • Heather Stuart (HS) welcomed the paper, stated that she recognised the strategic priorities set out in the paper from previous discussions and suggested the addition of the relationship between artists and communities around the place-making agenda. HS highlighted the work that the Scottish Federation of Theatres is carrying out in the realm of wellbeing that could inform, but is broader than, the wellbeing economy approach. Noting her support for making the case for different models/policies concerning arts funding, HS suggested extending this to include consideration of different delivery models in addition to funding.
  • Matt Baker (MB) suggested that the NPC could have a role to play in helping to create the thinking space around the future agenda, which is currently being squeezed by immediate priorities. In terms of how this might be achieved, MB considered various options: a working group model; use of thematic NPC meetings, for example, wellbeing, to draw in key people to develop thinking; or a conference. In response to a question from MB, JB stated that, if the NPC did host a conference it would be to seek views from others rather than present the views of the NPC.
  • Angiolina Foster (AF) stated that where the two main themes intersect could be the most fertile area for the NPC to get involved ie. activities that both aid recovery and support the cross-sectoral priorities before the pandemic where the agenda has subsequently been pushed back. AF proposed that this approach could feed into spending review decisions, for example, around mental health and wellbeing.
  • Alan McFarlane (AM) noted the importance of understanding where COVID-19 has changed SG funding priorities. AM noted that insolvencies are going to happen and that major funders like SG need to consider the effect of these on the sector, whether current budgets are aligned to deal with the effects of insolvency, whether other ways of applying public funding might yield better results and who makes decisions on what is inviolate. For example, could funding be set aside to help new owners resurrect insolvent businesses like local theatres and cinemas?
  • DS asked about the role of the Culture Strategy in light of the pandemic and, if still relevant, whether recovery should therefore be shaped to deliver the strategy. DS emphasised the vast amount of discussion and consultation experienced by the sector in recent years and the need to get out of the ‘wash cycle’ to move some of the debates and activity forward. DS suggested the NPC could take a position on key issues and make a public pitch to stimulate debate and gain support for activity.
  • Briana Pegado (BP) stated that culture compacts could possibly help to bridge any perceived gaps in culture policy and asked what the approach might be and what opportunities they might afford. JB said that the overarching principles in the Culture Strategy should be supported and encouraged, for example, a joined-up government approach to culture.
  • JM confirmed that from a SG perspective, the aims and ambitions of the Strategy still stand and, for example, the development of the Culture Collective fund was a deliberate alignment between recovery and the Culture Strategy. JM added that the narrative around, for example, fair work, in the strategy still resonates and that, rather than now being irrelevant, the Culture Strategy is more relevant now than ever before.
  • BP agreed that the overarching vision of the strategy is still relevant but argued that, particularly in light of changes in working practice such as increased lone working, more needs to be added around the cultural workforce including demanding more than simply ‘fair’ pay as a minimum standard. JB suggested that those ideas could be fed through any fair work strand, using the Culture Strategy as a springboard.
  • MB emphasised that the Strategy had been a useful tool in framing the Culture Collective fund development work.

4. NPC’s priorities for action

JB asked members to focus on how the NPC would take forward priorities, for example, a working group model to explore each theme or themed NPC meetings where key speakers are invited to contribute.

  • HS suggested the NPC needs to create an accessible space for the sector to engage, possibly online, in the form of open calls for suggestions for the top one or two priorities per sub-sector.
  • DS asserted that more guidance is needed from Ministers as to what they want the NPC to focus on. He added that the key long-term issues in the sector have not changed and that the principles set out in the Culture Strategy are radical and need radical policy to deliver them. In response to a comment from JB about supporting longer-term cross-portfolio activity, DS suggested that the first step may be to invite ministers from other portfolios to discuss evidence, value and outcomes in the culture space.
  • JB noted that the Cabinet has already signed up to a cross-portfolio approach and considered whether the NPC role might be to offer thoughts as to how that might best be delivered.
  • AF acknowledged that all governments struggle to deliver meaningful cross-policy funding and impact and urged the group not to over-interpret recent events in light of the pandemic as they do not dilute the vision for culture, adding that the Culture Strategy is needed now more than ever. In terms of informing practical pieces of work, AF suggested that there would be value in focussing on a cross-portfolio approach and considering the value added to the National Performance Framework broader outcomes.
  • MB stated he was in favour of hearing from other ministers and officials in other departments and recognised the need to understand how the system works to ensure that discussions are focussed on fertile ground around strategic objectives where cultural projects can make a difference. JB noted the benefits of using practical projects to demonstrate strategic objectives.
  • Robert Softly Gale (RSG) recognised the need for the NPC to be able to point to concrete actions soon and that managing expectations from the sector about what the NPC can achieve would be a challenge.
  • DM reminded the group about the original intention behind the NPC which was that it would build bridges into other key policy areas, for example, education, inviting counterparts across SG and beyond to engage and present in the culture arena with a view to influencing funding allocations etc. DM stated that she recognised this agenda had been impacted by the response to the pandemic but emphasised that it should not be diverted from entirely.
  • Jeffrey Sharkey (JS) noted the reality of competing demands within the higher education sector and the need to get beyond spin to make real change and to help the recovery of the culture sector. JS considered whether an approach like ‘culture and cities’ would help here and, pointing to recent German research around staging safe concerts, suggested that science was needed to help get people back to work. He added that it is important to maintain access to culture and cultural employment so that young people continue to have cultural aspirations and are not diverted to training or retraining in other careers.
  • DS asked whether the goal of the NPC would, therefore, be connecting the Scottish Government so that the culture portfolio and Cabinet Secretary is supported more overtly by other Ministers. He suggested that a question session could be arranged to better understand Ministers’ broader understanding of culture and identify any perceived barriers.
  • JB welcomed members’ views offline on the best way of taking forward the cross-portfolio agenda, for example, facilitating practical examples of cross-policy working, and invited members to send her ideas about what thematic areas they might have a particular interest in and who might be invited to take part in key thematic discussions. BP stated she still thought there would be value in NPC facilitating an event/call out for ideas. JB noted that there is already a lot of activity going on and that it would be useful to map out/join up/enhance that activity rather than replicate it.

Action: Members to submit views to JB on (i) the best way of taking forward the cross-portfolio agenda (ii) ideas about what thematic areas they might have a particular interest in (iii) who might also be invited to take part in key thematic discussions.

Action: JB/Secretariat to agree best approach to ensuring broad sector involvement in informing the work of the NPC.

5. Health and Wellbeing: Demonstrating and Developing the Contribution of Culture

Angiolina Foster & Dr Linda Irvine Fitzpatrick

AF introduced a presentation about the current health and wellbeing context in Scotland, the reasoning behind a proposed mental wellbeing focus and some suggestions of what can be done using practical examples from Dr Linda Irvine Fitzpatrick’s (LIF) work as Strategic Programme Manager for NHS Lothian.

AF spoke to a graph showing the mortality rate in Scotland since the pandemic struck and pointed out that the increased death rate is beyond that which is caused by COVID-19. She added there is no full explanation to account for this but some instances may be explained by diabetes, Alzheimer’s or other underlying illnesses. It was also noted that deaths due to road accidents have plummeted.

AF went on to characterise the impact of the pandemic on life expectancy, stating that the impact of a fully mitigated pandemic is predicted to drop life expectancy by 0.33 years, in a single year whilst the impact of a completely unmitigated pandemic is predicted to drop life expectancy by 5.96 years, in a single year. In comparison, AF explained that over a decade, the impact of inequality on life expectancy is six times greater than even a completely unmitigated pandemic (based on the worst case scenario modelled by Ferguson/Imperial) and therefore underlying health inequalities have a greater longitudinal impact and represent a more harmful, longer-term issue than COVID-19.

AF explained that a focus on mental wellbeing has been proposed because of the impact that the pandemic has had on mental health and the longevity of that impact, disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable in society and affecting young and old alike. AF suggested that we are only at the foothills of understanding the true impact and recommended that the NPC focus on mental health as there is a huge amount of work to explore and build on at the intersection of mental health and culture.

LIF introduced her work as the mental health lead for Thrive Edinburgh, the innovative new strategy for improving the mental health and wellbeing of all citizens in Edinburgh by seeking to change the mental health conversation in an urban landscape and broker new understanding. She then presented examples of successful culture/mental health initiatives which have been delivered over the last two years, framed by the ambitions set out in A Culture Strategy for Scotland. The initiatives presented to the group were:

  • Strengthening culture

(i) Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival: led by the Mental Health Foundation, the biggest mental health arts festival in the world, now in its 15th year.

(ii) ThriveFest#1: went online on World Mental Health Day, 10 October 2020 with the aim of providing creative outlets during COVID-19. Transforming through Culture

(i) ‘Dr. Korczat’s Example’, a play by David Greig, was staged in local schools from January 2020 to mark the year of children’s rights. It provided a powerful social justice springboard for discussion and reflection by teachers and pupils and was very well-received by both, highlighting the power of drama in different spaces.

(ii) Changing Lives 3 is an art as activism programme for people with lived experience of institutionalisation and explores pathways to rehabilitation. Empowerment through Culture

(i) ‘A Field of Our Own’ play was commissioned to dramatise the history of Hibernian Football Club, established by Irish immigrants in 1875, to resonate with the more recent immigration of Polish and Eastern European people into the Leith community.

(iii) The Edinburgh Pact: ‘Picturing Health’ and the ‘Photo Voice’ Media Education project stimulating a new relationship between the Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership with the public during COVID-19 in response to the open question ‘what does health look like to you?.

(iv) Thrive Exchange is an initiative to collaborate on evidence and data in an effort to drive change.

AF concluded the presentation by asking members whether they agree that the material presented by LIF would be a good way of bringing the Culture Strategy alive and whether there is an appetite for a working group which may identify opportunities for scaling up and maximising impact.

  • DS stated that there was a clear fit between the work presented and the Culture Strategy but that the quality and depth of evidence is often not good enough (see: There is also work to be done in regard to how such activities might be scaled for example, that which is currently being undertaken by King’s College London ( He added that any shift needs to be artist and sector supported in a connected way, with linkages to fair work, rather than the current picture of piecemeal activity which is largely project-funded. DS agreed that it should be looked at in more detail and suggested that the infrastructure needs to be developed for this work to be delivered irrespective of project funding and that local arts officers would be an important element of any attempt to scale such work up.
  • HS agreed it should be one of the areas where the NPC gathers more information around practice and prevention to support cultural prescribing, noting that there is a lot of good practice out there and evidence but not enough investment. HS emphasised the link between public health, communities and wider lessons learned across key partners at local level. In terms of how best to aid thinking about how arts can help locally, HS suggested there may be some activities which are happening commonly at a local level, as well as key exemplars, which would be of interest but it needs joined up thinking locally to make things happen as the current siloes are preventing investment.
  • JS welcomed the presentation as both powerful and sobering. He stated that the Royal Conservatoire had just launched a music scholarship despite the pandemic and noted that the arts have been keeping people sane during the pandemic even if it has been via digital platforms. JS noted that doctors often prescribe walks in nature etc. for mental health and emphasised all that the arts can do in this space, not just through consumption, but studying, singing, playing instruments, young and old, individually and in communities all across the country.
  • MB emphasised the importance of making the linkages and acknowledged the role of procurement in making things happen on the ground. He pointed to LIF’s knowledge and experience in this area as a useful source of knowledge going forward.

JB noted members’ positive endorsement of the proposals to explore culture and mental wellbeing further and consider what a joined up initiative could look like, outlining some of the key considerations in more detail. AF added that an ambitious objective could be a shift away from project funding to a legitimate policy in itself, where it sits at the intersection of culture and health, supporting mainstream sustainable infrastructure and resource.

Action: AF to help frame  early thinking on key issues and possible approaches to effecting a frame-shift around culture and mental wellbeing as part of the NPC agreed work programme.

6. Culture Collective working group: questions

Matt Baker

Members noted the written update that had been provided in advance of the meeting. The Culture Collective fund launched on 04 November 2020.

7. Measuring Change Group: questions

David Stevenson

JB noted that the Measuring Change Group minutes of 25 September highlighted the need for guidance from the NPC on the key priorities that will in turn affect what gets measured. JB noted that NPC discussion on those key priorities and the role of the NPC was underway.

8. Any other business

  • The next meeting of the NPC will take place in January 2021. JB invited members to let the secretariat know of any particular dates or times to avoid or that best suit.

Action: Members to let secretariat know of any particular dates or times to avoid or that best suit when scheduling the next meeting in January 2021

  • Members discussed a proposal that Creative Scotland attends NPC meetings as a permanent observer. JB noted that has chair of the NPC, she holds regular meetings with Iain Munro, CEO, Creative Scotland. Members felt that consideration needs to be given as to how the NPC can best connect across the whole sector, not just the sectors covered by Creative Scotland.  It was agreed that alternatives to observer status should be explored which ensure better connections across the sector

Action: JB/Secretariat to consider alternatives to observer status and how the NPC can best connect across the sector.

  • AM asked whether it would be possible for members with specific knowledge of the culture sector to aid the thinking of those less familiar with the sector through provocation or reflection. It was agreed that each member would be given the opportunity in turn to discuss their own top three priorities for the culture sector to the group at subsequent meetings.

Action: Members to consider top three priorities for the culture sector, framed by the agreed priority themes, for wider discussion as part of the agreed NPC work programme.

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