Iain Smith’s resignation from the Joint Board of Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen is a loss for both organisations and in particular for Scottish Screen given his eminence, expertise and connections in the film industry.
His resignation highlights issues not only about Scottish Screen and Creative Scotland but also questions around the role of boards in NDPBs in Scotland at this time.
The main reason cited for Smith’s resignation is the perceived side-lining of the Joint Board of SAC and SS in the establishment of Creative Scotland, now led by a new board, Creative Scotland 2009. Specifically he is quoted as being concerned that CS 2009 will not champion film as a creative and economic driver for Scotland.
The particular political circumstances around the establishment of Creative Scotland have led to the current rather messy situation but one that is expedient.
The members of the joint board of SAC and SS have had to govern in particularly difficult circumstances. They were set up by the Scottish Government with the purpose of establishing Creative Scotland AND governing the antecedent organisations. This is in itself proved not to be a good route for creating a new organisation that was to be more than the sum of its parts and where the parts had very different cultures. The difficulty of the task was exacerbated when the Creative Scotland Bill fell in June 2008 and there was a period of uncertainty as to how Creative Scotland would be established.
The Joint Board had to hand over the transition project to a new board.
All of that is difficult enough for board members who are, with the exception of the Chair, unpaid. And, unlike most boards in the cultural sector, several are independent and freelance workers whose time is paid for neither by personal wealth nor pension nor public sector salary. All of them are on the board in order to give public service to areas of the arts and creative industries where they are passionate and have expertise.
But there is a further challenge to the effectiveness of boards of NDPBs at this time in Scotland’s trajectory of self-governance. The current administration is focussed on ensuring that public sector bodies deliver Scottish Government policy as well as on simplifying the public sector landscape.
For a board which is an intermediary this presents further challenges. Several key players in this field have remarked on the tighter directions provided by the Scottish Government over the last year or so.
Further, there can be an undermining of such boards because members are appointed and not elected – suffering from challenges of legitimacy and the ‘democratic deficit’.
The principles of arms length governance are surely a vital part of democratic public governance. But it could be seen to be a task which is at minimum thankless and perhaps worse.
At a time when there is a need to innovate in the delivery of public services, its important that the governance arrangements for any NDPB make it significantly capable of discharging its role well and at a cost which is better than any other arrangements. This includes clarity of purpose and responsibilities and appropriate skills. Hopefully this will be the case with Creative Scotland moving forward.