DID you know that most freelance writers and artists haven’t received a penny from the various support schemes over the last four months of the Covid-19 lockdown? Since they are not employees they haven’t been furloughed, and because their earnings fall under the thresholds.

The tap for freelancers in the gig economy has been turned off overnight. The pandemic has exposed the precarious nature of their situation since they deliver much of the creative work but are reliant on short-term contracts from arts organisations to provide it. Many also fall between the cracks of government schemes because, in order to try to make a sustainable living, they rely on a variety of projects from different companies.

It’s this scandalous situation that the newly formed Scottish Committee of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) has addressed in its call for £20 million of the £107m emergency funding for the arts in Scotland to be allocated to individual artists on whom the whole arts infrastructure depends. Who generates the ideas, imagines the story and creates the first draft? The writer and artist of one kind or another. Yet they are at the mercy of arts companies and gatekeepers of all kinds whose income is usually guaranteed.

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The WGGB in Scotland has written to Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop, Culture Committee Convener Joan McAlpine and Creative Scotland chief executive Iain Munro to seek:

- A £15m Creative Sustainable Livelihood Fund for freelance creatives in Scotland who do not qualify for current support;

- A £5m Creative Commissions scheme in Scotland which would enable both freelance and employed artists to contribute their expertise to the task of safeguarding and kick-starting the many arts companies and venues which are at risk, as well as promoting inclusively and diversity

- The setting up of Knowledge Transfer Workshops in Scotland run by established industry organisations to provide freelance and employed arts workers with the latest professional and entrepreneurial skills.

Their full proposals are here: www.bit.ly/fundcreatives.

The Livelihood Fund fits very well with the recent recommendations of the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, which called on the Scottish Government to work with the sector to “create a National Arts Force, composed of freelance and gig-economy workers across the sector, to work in schools, care homes and communities”. If the proposals are accepted, the National Arts Force would comprise 1500 artists paid £10,000 for a year to work in communities, contribute to the common good and boost economic recovery.

Last December the Scottish Parliament cross-party Putting Artists In The Picture report exposed many problems of arts funding in Scotland and recommended putting artists at the centre of arts policy. The time to implement that is now, and substantial funding has been provided. Taken together with the Writers’ Guild and Economic Recovery Group proposals, significant change is possible. It’s time to address an iniquitous system which prioritises organisations and infrastructure over the artists who are their lifeblood.

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It seems Creative Scotland has been charged with making recommendations on the allocation of the £107m emergency funding. Will these be all down to lobbying by influential arts companies and venues? Redundancies of arts staff in all sectors are to be avoided at all costs. But so also is zero income for freelancers and those on fixed-term contracts who are effectively made redundant at the end of every job. The Writers’ Guild in Scotland is working with other organisations and trade unions in the culture sector and wants urgent discussions with Creative Scotland and the politicians responsible for making these crucial decisions.

Fiona Hyslop has said that emergency funding decisions will be made by the end of July. What would not be acceptable is if, in the coming weeks, corporate arts organisations and venues are inside the tent influencing those decisions whilst the trade unions who represent thousands of arts workers in Scotland are excluded. As with so many issues thrown up by the Covid-19 pandemic, here is a unique opportunity to change the culture of arts decision making in Scotland rather than continue with the ‘business as usual’ approach which has caused so much dissension in the past.

The question is will the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland grasp the nettle this time and change the culture?