Arts & Business Scotland strengthens leadership team with four new Trustees


Independent charity Arts & Business Scotland has appointed four new Trustees to its management board, bringing expertise from senior roles at BBC Scotland and the Scottish Government alongside the fields of arts management and consultancy. Alex Dobbie, Paul Smart, Yolanda Aguilar, and Graeme Davies have joined Arts & Business Scotland at an important time as the organisation seeks to further strengthen its role as a conduit between Scotland’s cultural and business sectors.

Chaired by Diana Murray, Arts & Business Scotland is an independent Scottish charity that helps to nurture creative, social and commercial relationships in an effort to enrich creativity and cultural engagement across Scotland. 2018 is a pivotal year for the organisation as it marks one year since the launch of the Culture & Business Fund Scotland, which provides match funding for business sponsorship of cultural projects. Meanwhile, a special conference taking place in Edinburgh last month marked the culmination of Arts & Business Scotland’s Resourcing Scotland’s Heritage programme, which has successfully delivered training on governance and fundraising to heritage organisations throughout Scotland over the past four years..

Arts & Business Scotland’s new Trustees will be focused on strengthening ties between Scotland’s business and cultural sectors, a particularly critical goal at a time of ongoing uncertainty around the future of public sector funding for heritage and the arts.

Alex Dobbie is Head of HR at BBC Scotland and brings with him extensive board-level experience across a broad spectrum of industries.

Mr Dobbie remarked:

“I’m delighted to be joining the board of Arts & Business Scotland.  It is a tremendously exciting time for all of us involved across our various sectors and I am looking forward to working with all of our partners and stakeholders to forge ahead and take advantage of the opportunities that lie before us, whilst also working together in solidarity to address some of the challenges that remain.”

“At a personal level I am incredibly passionate about supporting the industry in Scotland, both through my role at BBC Scotland and beyond and upon hearing that Arts & Business Scotland were seeking to add some additional voices to their team I jumped at the opportunity.”

Dr Paul Smart has held various senior positions within the Scottish administration and is currently Head of Colleges, Young Workforce & SFC Sponsorship Division at the Scottish Government. An expert on heritage matters, Dr Smart has held senior positions at Historic Environment Scotland, Scottish Civic Trust, Scottish Homes, and the Scottish Department of Development (Railways), among others.

Dr Smart commented:

“I am very pleased to be given the chance to help guide the path-breaking work A&BS at such an exciting time for Scotland’s creative arts and heritage.”

“I am particularly keen to support the organisation’s commitment to widening access to the country’s rich and diverse visual and performing arts through supporting community-based business/arts partnerships.”

Yolanda Aguilar is an experienced cultural manager who has a background as a professional performer and tutor in the performing arts. Ms Aguilar is currently Director of Operations at dance company Shaper/Caper, and has experience working with local authorities and arts centres throughout Scotland.

Ms Aguilar remarked:

“I am thrilled to be part of Arts and Business Scotland’s Board of Trustees. The organisation holds a unique place in the Scottish professional landscape and I am looking forward to contributing to its development and growth in the forthcoming years, alongside a fantastic team of directors and staff”.

Graeme Davies is a marketing expert who is currently Director of Marketing for Scottish technology company Clearwater Controls’ DERAGGER+ wastewater system. He comes from a consultancy background and has helped managed the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the Filmhouse cinema group as part of this work.

Mr Davies remarked:

“Having spent much of my career working on creative partnerships from various perspectives, rights holder, sponsor and consultant, I am delighted to be joining the Board of Arts & Business Scotland.”

“I look forward to working with the A&BS Board and management team to continue the work they do in encouraging corporations, brands and cultural organisations to form collaborative, creative partnerships that deliver real commercial value to all parties.”

Commenting on the appointment of the four new board trustees, Arts & Business Scotland Chief Executive David Watt said:

“We are delighted to welcome four new trustees to Arts & Business Scotland. Their appointments come at an exciting time for our organisation, with the Culture & Business Fund Scotland supporting some of Scotland’s most exciting and innovative arts and heritage projects.

Membership to Arts & Business Scotland is increasing with the need and demand for arts and heritage organisations to develop skills and confidence in securing funding from other entrepreneurial sources. This could be anything from forming private sector creative partnerships to empowering the public through crowdfunding techniques.”

Mr Watt added:

“Our core mandate is to facilitate mutually-beneficial working relationships between business and the cultural sector in order for Scotland’s arts and heritage sectors to thrive. The leadership and expertise that our new trustees bring to Arts & Business Scotland will be pivotal in helping us to continue our progress towards achieving that goal.

On behalf of Arts & Business Scotland, we welcome our four new board members and look forward to working together to further enrich creativity and cultural engagement across Scotland in the months ahead, and empowering the public through donation, membership, crowdfunding and other innovative fundraising engagement.”


The dangers of a scunnered electorate


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Alex Bruce, Director

There’s a great Scottish adjective that is a handy description of how Scots currently feel about the general state of British politics. They are, to use the vernacular, “scunnered” – that is, completely fed up.


Published this week, the results of the Hansard Society’s 15th annual Audit of Political Engagement, confirm this: Just 14% of Scots are broadly satisfied with the British political system compared to a UK-wide average of 29%.

Meanwhile, recent polling shows little evidence that the Scottish population’s dissatisfaction with British politics has translated into a new found enthusiasm for independence.

Furthermore, the Hansard Society’s audit found that a rise in enthusiasm for politics in Scotland immediately following the 2014 independence referendum has now completely dissipated.

From a post-referendum high of 72%, the percentage of Scots certain to vote has dropped to 59%, three points below the average for the UK as a whole.

On this basis, a fair assessment of the Scottish people’s general attitude to politics at Holyrood is that they certainly view it as “less bad” than Westminster – but that shouldn’t be mistaken for real enthusiasm or love.

It’s often easy to fall into the trap of assuming that the general population is consumed by the same obsession with this country’s constitutional future as our politicians or the media. In reality, the public is far more concerned about the issues that affect them day-to-day.

Similarly, the motivation for a large number of Scots who voted Remain in 2016 was arguably less an overwhelming passion for the European Union than, having faced the prospect of economic and constitutional turmoil had Scotland voted to become independent in 2014, a desire to avoid the prospect of similar upheaval if the UK were to leave the EU.

By focusing on constitutional matters, politicians at Holyrood and Westminster risk falling increasingly out of touch with their electorate. The UK and Scottish Governments are equally guilty of this, preoccupied in recent weeks by an ongoing spat over Westminster’s so-called post-Brexit ‘power grab’.

Nicola Sturgeon raised the temperature of this debate still further last weekend by accusing the Conservatives of being hell-bent on ‘demolishing’ devolution. Later in the week, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford threatened to see the UK Government in court, declaring any remaining prospect of a deal on the power grab issue dead in the water. The First Minister has also faced ongoing pressure from her own party to keep the constitution front and centre with a second candidate for deputy leader this week backing rapid progress towards Indyref2.

Faced with these ongoing machinations, a large swathe of the Scottish population may simply disengage further from politics if they perceive constitutional matters to be politicians’ only all-consuming priority.

For a Scottish Government that has been in power for more than a decade, a failure to maintain focus on those issues that really matter to a majority of Scots could leave the electorate more scunnered than ever. For the SNP, come election time, a scunnered electorate could be the biggest threat of all.

This article first appeared on PubAffairs:

Why I’m running the Edinburgh Half for Maggie’s

Director, Alex Bruce

About 10 months ago, my wife was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. It was the beginning of the school summer holidays and Vikki had been called back to the breast clinic after her annual breast screening had shown up something abnormal.

I can remember the phone call when Vikki asked me to drive over to the breast clinic to collect her because the news was “not good”. To say it was a shock would be a major understatement.

Following that initial numb feeling, your mind starts racing. It’s natural to want to know as much as you can about breast cancer – and above all else, the prognosis. It’s fair to say that there is a wealth of information out there – much of it extremely useful. But it’s also crucially important to keep feet on the ground and to take anything you read on websites and online forums with a huge pinch of salt. Because everyone is different, everyone’s body behaves differently – and everyone’s cancer is different as well.

One common analogy of the experience of cancer for the person affected and their family is an emotional rollercoaster with lots of extreme ups and downs. That was certainly our experience.

For example, following the initial diagnosis, there were some frantic days of waiting for the results of various follow-up tests – and to have confirmation that the cancer had not spread. A waiting period when it’s all too easy to assume the very worst. Having thankfully received confirmation that the cancer hadn’t spread, we embarked on a programme of chemotherapy, to be followed by surgery and then radiotherapy. But at every step along the way, there were a huge number of variables at play that might have taken us on a different path.

Explaining the situation to our children was hard – not least because there was so much we were in the dark about ourselves. Your thoughts inevitably turn to different scenarios and what these could mean for them, how you might cope, how they might cope. Such thoughts could make you really emotional at unexpected moments.

I have always known that my wife is a determined and strong-willed person, verging dare I say on stubborn. But I could only marvel at the strength with which she underwent treatment. She was particularly determined to use the cold cap during chemotherapy in an effort not to lose her hair. The cold cap is a machine that pumps freezing water around the top of the head during treatment, the purpose being to freeze the hair follicles so that the cancer drugs will not attack these cells. It’s deeply uncomfortable and prolongs each chemotherapy treatment by several hours. But I’m happy to report that it did actually work for Vikki.

Each chemotherapy treatment is administered in a three week cycle with a cumulatively bigger impact on the body’s immune system after each successive treatment. It is a hard process to have to go through – for myself and other family members, to witness a loved one having to go through such brutal treatment was hard too. But after 12 weeks and four cycles of chemotherapy, we were advised that Vikki had responded well enough to proceed to surgery.

Following surgery, the rollercoaster shifted direction again as we awaited the results of a biopsy from the surgery that would tell us exactly what impact the chemotherapy had had. On the 21st November, Vikki and I attended a meeting with the consultant where we were advised that Vikki’s cancer had had a “full pathological response” to the treatment. In other words, the chemotherapy had killed all cancer cells. The sense of elation is difficult to describe.

Subsequent to this, Vikki has undergone radiotherapy treatment and continues to receive particular drugs for her specific form of cancer on a three week cycle, all in an effort to minimise the chances of the cancer coming back. Vikki is yet to return to work. With such a positive outcome, it is easy to underestimate what she has had to go through over the past year, both mentally and physically – and the support she will continue to need.

This is the road we will continue to travel in the weeks, months and years ahead. Every health professional we have encountered along the way has been worth their weight in gold, providing universally excellent care. As Vikki herself puts it: “I bloody love the NHS!” In addition, the support, guidance and patient listening ear offered by Maggie’s Edinburgh has been miraculous – and we know from encounters at the Maggie’s Centre the absolutely vital help and support they provide to those who are travelling a far more difficult road than ours.

All of which does make you fundamentally re-evaluate your priorities in life and realise quite how precious life is – and the family and friendships that make it.

One of Vikki’s great passions in life is running and it is a pastime that she has, remarkably, been able to continue throughout her treatment. As she began treatment, I was gently persuaded (should that be “strong-armed?”) to take up running myself. Next month, I will be running my first official race, the Edinburgh Half Marathon, and looking to raise lots of money for Maggie’s as I do so. Running with me will be Vikki and our friends Paul, Jo and Nick.

If you’ve read this far and would like to make a donation, you can do so by visiting: There are so many more people out there, dealing with all types of cancer, who continue to benefit from Maggie’s phenomenal support. I can guarantee that every penny donated will be put to outstandingly good use.

A week in Scotland

SNP Deputy Leadership

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Director, Graeme Downie @GraemeDownie

This week looked like the first one in Scottish politics for a while that wouldn’t be utterly dominated by Brexit and maybe, just maybe, we might get back to some good old fashioned political bun-fights and heads on a platter.

It wasn’t to be but it did start off promisingly. First, last weekend, the Deputy Leader of the SNP, the former MP Angus Robertson, resigned from his post. Although not entirely unexpected – many had thought he might have resigned from the position after losing his seat at the last General Election – it did seem to come out of nowhere.

This gives the SNP a moment of pause and a decision to make, with the runners and riders already putting out the feelers as to whether to run. Some see this as a chance to break with the past, replacing a policy-heavy and experienced MP from farming and fishing country in the North East of Scotland, with more a grass-roots, enthusiastic organiser from the central belt determined to fire up and organise the membership to push for a second independence referendum.

A character from the left of the party, such as Tommy Shepherd MP, would seem to tick many of the boxes in that regard but it will be interesting to see whether current leader of the SNP Group at Westminster, Ian Blackford MP, decides to stand, or even if a senior MSP, such as Transport Minister Humza Yousaf sees the position as a way to further their career.

Policing the police

On the policy front, there was additional drama this week as what seems to be the never-ending saga of wrongdoing by Police Scotland, and the body designed to provider oversight, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), with the resignation of Police Scotland’s Chief Constable, Phil Gormley. The Chief Constable has been on “Special Leave” since September over allegations of serious misconduct in a number of investigations.

The merger of different constabularies to create a single, unified, Police Scotland, has been an ongoing sore for the Scottish Government. From disagreements about payment of VAT by HMT, to bungled investigations, allegations of cover-ups and ministerial pressure, Police Scotland has never been far from the headlines.

The Justice Minister, Michael Matheson MSP, along with the new Chair of the SPA, former Labour Minister, Susan Deacon, will be hoping this is the beginning of the end of the saga but with policing never far from the headlines in any case, that might be a forlorn hope.

The Justice Minister had a further problem this week when the he met with the father of Shaun Woodburn, a 30-year-old man who was murdered on New Year’s Day 2017. Not only has there been strong criticism of the sentence handed down to his convicted killer but also complaints about the time it was taken for the body to be released to the family for burial.


I did warn that we had only almost got through this week without mentioning Brexit. Sadly, it was not to be as on Thursday, MSPs were up in arms that permission to read Brexit documentation from the UK Government, would only be by arranging an appointment, limited to 45 mins and kept to only two possible days, with very short notice to arrange. Although the Scotland Office later clarified that the reading room would be open beyond this week, it was yet a further episode which leaves a bad taste in the mouth between the governments after previous disputes over the devolution of additional powers to Holyrood after Brexit.

A version of this blog fist appeared on Pubaffiars

Public relations will play an important role in gender pay gap reporting

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Sarah Robertson, Account Manager

From April 2018, the UK will become one of the first countries in the world to require voluntary, private, and public sector employers with 250 or more employees to publish statutory calculations every year showing how large the pay gap is between their male and female members of staff.

This is a significant step towards achieving workplace equality and offers organisations a unique opportunity to effect positive change on society. However, so far fewer than 750 employers have reported their gender pay gap data out of over 9,000 companies that will be required to publish this information by the 4th April deadline (30th March for public sector employers).

In 2017, the median gender pay gap for full time employees in the UK stood at 9.1%, down from 9.4% in 2016. If you take the mean calculation, the gender pay gap is 14.1%, a figure that increases to over 50% in the aviation industry.

Workplace inequality is not only unfair on employees; it poses a severe threat to an organisation’s reputation and to the long term value of the business. As trusted advisers, public relations specialists are uniquely placed to help organisations address and communicate even the most significant pay gap.

Handled well, gender pay gap reporting offers organisations the opportunity to shape their reputation for the better. By communicating clearly and honestly what the issue is, and importantly the steps being taken to address any gender pay gap, organisations have the opportunity to position themselves as progressive and fair employers while rectifying any historic wrongs.

Take easyJet for example. At the end of last year the company admitted their average UK-based female employee earns 51.7% less than their average UK-based male employee. The company addressed this issue head on, engaging with employees and the media to ensure it was understood that the issue had been identified, that it was an industry-wide problem, and more importantly what was being done to fix it.

On top of this, only a few days ago easyJet’s new chief executive Johan Lundgren voluntarily took a £34,000 pay cut to match the salary of his female predecessor, Carolyn McCall. Crucially, by being open and transparent, easyJet has successfully turned their large gender pay gap into a positive story for the brand.

As the deadline looms, it is crucial organisations have in place a clear strategy for how any gender pay gap will be communicated to employees, stakeholders, and the public in order to deliver the right message that reflects the true position of the organisation. A single gender pay gap figure likely won’t tell the whole story, so it is important to provide context and to communicate the steps that are being taken to address the underlying causes of any gap.

If you haven’t already, prepare your communications strategy now. Gender pay gap reporting poses a reputational risk that organisations simply cannot afford to ignore.

2018 promises to be yet another rollercoaster year ahead

As 2018 gets into full swing, much like 2017 Scottish politics is likely to be shaped primarily by two big issues: the terms of Brexit and its consequences for IndyRef2.

Managing   Director,     Alex Orr

One advantage for us, the voters, is that there will be a year of relative peace on the doorstep, as for the first time since 2013 the year ‘may’ (emphasis on ‘may’) pass without a referendum or national election being staged.

On the key issue of whether Ms Sturgeon will decide to press ahead with IndyRef2, given the electoral bloody nose the party received at the snap general election in 2017, the First Minister will undoubtedly keep the powder dry on her intentions until later in the year, when the nature of the Brexit transition deal becomes clearer. On this more later.

One other big political set-piece is due to take place in the opening months of 2018 is the publication of the SNP’s Growth Commission report into the finances of an independent Scotland. Designed to lay the groundwork for another vote, it will make a series of crucial recommendations about the currency the country might use and how it might grow its economy.

After a decade in power attention will focus on how the minority SNP administration is using its devolved powers, with a specific focus on health, education, and income tax changes. Outlined in the Draft Scottish Budget last month this highlighted modest tax rises for higher earners and cuts for low income Scots.

However, while SNP difficulties seem certain, it is unclear which party, if any, will be the beneficiary.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson may have enjoyed electoral success, through making the pro-Union cause her own, but none of her achievements have been on domestic policy.

She should be able to use income tax rises to her advantage, but peak Tory may have been reached and Davidson’s party looks close to the upper limit of support amongst voters.

This time last year, the Scottish Labour Party seemed near to extinction, but in the snap general election it increased its MP presence and on paper its leader, Richard Leonard, has the most to gain from a year that could see Sturgeon and Davidson fight out a bloody score draw.

While IndyRef 2 seems a blur on the horizon, the implications of Brexit will keep the constitution in the foreground of political debate at Holyrood.

A stand-off looms between the Scottish and UK Governments on the transfer of powers after Brexit. During the year it is likely that the Scottish Government and the UK will finally do a deal on the EU Withdrawal Bill, which will repatriate thousands of EU laws back to Britain. The big question of 2018, of course, is whether Ms Sturgeon will decide to press ahead with IndyRef2 – and whether the UK will give its permission for another vote.

If it does happen, it is likely to be during the two-year Brexit transition period which begins in March 2019. The SNP’s mandate for another vote lasts until the next Scottish election in 2021.

Whatever happens, 2018 is likely to prove yet another rollercoaster year politically north of the border.

New Planning Bill introduced

Managing Director, @Alex_M_Orr

New legislation intended to simplify and improve the planning system has been set out by Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart.

The Scottish Government has said its aim is to provide an improved system of development planning, giving people a greater say in the future of their places and supporting delivery of planning development.

Mr Stewart described how the Planning (Scotland) Bill, will create a new structure for a more proactive and enabling system with clearer development plans, earlier engagement with communities, streamlined procedures and smarter resourcing.

The Bill builds on recommendations of an independent review carried out by a panel of experts last year. Provisions within it include Simplified Planning Zones and proposals to develop an Infrastructure Levy to help support the development of infrastructure to unlock land for development. The latter has raised concern in some quarters over the potential diversion of money from local planning applications to the Scottish Government

The Bill will also allow the Scottish Government to step in and take control of a planning department are outlined, with the provision for a Government “troubleshooter” to be sent in if local planners are deemed to be under-performing. The Conservatives have claimed that this would run a “coach and horses through any pretence of localism,”

The Bill will include a new right for residents to produce their own development plans and there will no doubt be continued debate around not only what is in the Bill, but what is not – including the absence of a third party right of appeal.

The Scottish Government’s 20 proposals for revamping the planning system include:

  1. Aligning community planning and spatial planning. This can be achieved by introducing a requirement for development plans to take account of wider community planning and can be supported through future guidance.
  2. Regional partnership working. We believe that strategic development plans should be removed from the system so that strategic planners can support more proactive regional partnership working.
  3. Improving national spatial planning and policy. The National Planning Framework (NPF) can be developed further to better reflect regional priorities. In addition, national planning policies can be used to make local development planning simpler and more consistent.
  4. Stronger local development plans. We believe the plan period should be extended to 10 years, and that ‘main issues reports’ and supplementary guidance should be removed to make plans more accessible for people. A new ‘gatecheck’ would help to improve plan examinations by dealing with significant issues at an earlier stage.
  5. Making plans that deliver. We can strengthen the commitment that comes from allocating development land in the plan, and improve the use of delivery programmes to help ensure that planned development happens on the ground.
  6. Giving people an opportunity to plan their own place. Communities should be given a new right to come together and prepare local place plans. We believe these plans should form part of the statutory local development plan.
  7. Getting more people involved in planning. A wider range of people should be encouraged and inspired to get involved in planning. In particular, we would like to introduce measures that enable children and young people to have a stronger voice in decisions about the future of their places.
  8. Improving public trust. Pre-application consultation can be improved, and there should be greater community involvement where proposals are not supported in the development plan. We also propose to discourage repeat applications and improving planning enforcement.
  9. Keeping decisions local – rights of appeal. We believe that more review decisions should be made by local authorities rather than centrally. We also want to ensure that the system is sufficiently flexible to reflect the distinctive challenges and opportunities in different parts of Scotland.
  10. Being clear about how much housing land is required. Planning should take a more strategic view of the land required for housing development. Clearer national and regional aspirations for new homes are proposed to support this.
  11. Closing the gap between planning consent and delivery of homes. We want planning authorities to take more steps to actively help deliver development. Land reform could help to achieve this.
  12. Releasing more ‘development ready’ land. Plans should take a more strategic and flexible approach to identifying land for housing. Consents could be put in place for zoned housing land through greater use of Simplified Planning Zones.
  13. Embedding an infrastructure first approach. There is a need for better co-ordination of infrastructure planning at a national and regional level. This will require a stronger commitment to delivering development from all infrastructure providers.
  14. A more transparent approach to funding infrastructure. We believe that introducing powers for a new local levy to raise additional finance for infrastructure would be fairer and more effective. Improvements can also be made to Section 75 obligations.
  15. Innovative infrastructure planning. Infrastructure planning needs to look ahead so that it can deliver low carbon solutions, new digital technologies and the facilities that communities need.
  16. Developing skills to deliver outcomes. We will work with the profession to improve and broaden skills.
  17. Investing in a better service. There is a need to increase planning fees to ensure the planning service is better resourced.
  18. A new approach to improving performance. We will continue work to strengthen the way in which performance is monitored, reported and improved.
  19. Making better use of resources – efficient decision making. We will remove the need for planning consent from a wider range of developments. Targeted changes to development management will help to ensure decisions are made more quickly and more transparently.
  20. Innovation, designing for the future and the digital transformation of the planning service. There are many opportunities to make planning work better through the use of information technology. The planning service should continue to pioneer the digital transformation of public services.

The Bill marks the start of the formal legislative process.  It will now be debated by the Scottish Parliament before being subject to detailed scrutiny at Committee, with the expectation that it will receive Royal Assent in the 2018-2019 Parliamentary year.