Dundee Heritage Trust

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:05 pm on 18th September 2002.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 5:05 pm, 18th September 2002

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3191, in the name of Irene McGugan, on Dundee Heritage Trust. I invite members who are leaving the chamber to do so as quickly and quietly as possible. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that our industrial heritage is of interest to many people from other countries as well as Scots; notes with concern, however, that despite strenuous efforts and exploration of all possible funding opportunities, Dundee Heritage Trust, the charity which owns Dundee's leading tourist attractions, RRS Discovery and the Verdant Works, has been forced by a continuing and critical shortfall in revenue support into a series of cost-cutting exercises and staff redundancies, the latest being the loss of their very experienced and committed chief executive; recognises that the seriousness of this move cannot be underestimated and is a worrying indication that the closure of both Discovery Point and the Verdant Works may now be imminent; considers that the Scottish Executive should put in place a financial package with immediate effect and extend central revenue support as part of a longer term strategy to secure the future of these significant visitor attractions, both of which achieved five star grading by VisitScotland, with Dundee Heritage Trust being the only independent operator in Scotland to achieve this accolade, and notes that the loss of RRS Discovery, which gives the city of Dundee its "identity" and the Verdant Works, the last working jute mill in Scotland and European Industrial Museum of the Year in 1999, to the cultural heritage of the nation would be both significant and irreplaceable.

Photo of Irene McGugan Irene McGugan Scottish National Party 5:07 pm, 18th September 2002

I am here to seek a solution to the threatened closure of Verdant Works, Scotland's only jute industry museum. The situation is simple. The museum faces a financial crisis that is getting worse with every minute that passes. Without immediate core funding of £120,000 to allow Dundee Heritage Trust to implement its development and growth strategy, it might no longer be possible to save from extinction two important treasures from Scotland's history.

Dundee Heritage Trust was established in 1985 to protect and preserve Scotland's jute heritage. The centrepiece of that heritage is the Verdant Works museum. The contribution of jute to the social history of Dundee and Scotland is immense: more than 50,000 people—half of Dundee's working population—were employed in the industry during the early part of the 1900s. Verdant Works tells, in an interactive way, the story of the people who worked in the jute industry and helps to preserve for the benefit of future generations the many stories about often difficult living and working conditions.

It is difficult to overstate the uniqueness of jute to the social history of Scotland—for example the working-class deprivation that existed and the role of women as principal wage earners. If the history of jute goes, that legacy goes too. Verdant Works is the last working jute mill in Scotland and a VisitScotland five-star attraction. It was the European industrial museum of the year in 1999-2000, yet it is fighting for its survival.

In 1996, in conjunction with other bodies, Dundee Heritage Trust was instrumental in securing the return of the royal research ship Discovery from the Thames to her native Dundee. The ship's 1901-1904 expedition is universally acknowledged as one of the most significant events in maritime exploration history. The ship, which has given Dundee its identity as the city of discovery, is another VisitScotland five-star attraction, yet it, too, is fighting for its survival.

In 2001, it seemed inevitable that Verdant Works would close. Forced by a continuing and critical shortfall in revenue support, Dundee Heritage Trust actioned a series of cost-cutting moves and staff redundancies. Verdant Works was reprieved on that occasion not by Executive action, but by the generosity of the people of Dundee, who raised the magnificent sum of £98,000 to secure the short-term future of both museums.

The attractions are being considered for two tourism and three museum awards, one of them international. The recently published national audit described the museums as having internationally significant collections. Letters of support from other organisations number in their dozens.

In recent years, the tourism industry has emerged as an important element of Dundee's economy and with close to 100,000 visitors annually, Discovery Point and Verdant Works are major contributors to the local economy. However, the continued uncertainty that hangs over Verdant Works in particular is not conducive to forward planning. No organisation can operate effectively in such conditions. One-off campaigns cannot be repeated and are not the way forward for our nationally renowned heritage.

What is required is a long-term, coherent strategy, with appropriate funding, to ensure that these vital aspects of maritime and working-class heritage are not lost and their full contribution to tourism, employment and education can be realised. In the short term, I ask the minister to consider grant aid from the Executive of £120,000 to secure the future of both museums. Provision of that funding would release adequate funds from trading to access European regional development funding that is required for promotion and marketing. That would give Dundee Heritage Trust the opportunity to plan constructively for the future. Funding of that nature would allow Verdant Works to build for the future, not simply struggle to survive for an indefinite period.

The sum of £120,000 is not a lot of money. It is less than half the money set aside for undertaking the museum's audit. Two Verdant Works could be saved for the price of an audit. Verdant Works recognises that it is not alone, but it feels let down by a system that saw three other museums helped out by significant funds in the past year or two. Indeed, just last week, the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport launched another consultation, which means more forms for the museum sector to fill out while the Verdant Works and others all but disappear.

The situation is as critical as it can be without being fatal—and even that possibility has not been averted. I know that, despite my best efforts to highlight the gravity of the situation and to present the case for core funding, the Deputy Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport's response will disappoint Verdant Works. I know because, in last week's spending review announcements, no new money was allocated to Scotland's heritage. I know also because the minister confirmed it in a memorandum written last week to Labour MSPs John McAllion and Kate Maclean. She wrote that she was highly unlikely to be able to respond positively to my pleas and suggestions on behalf of Verdant Works and RRS Discovery. However, she indicated that she would endeavour to be as helpful as possible to her party colleagues in respect of the points that they raised.

Photo of Irene McGugan Irene McGugan Scottish National Party

I am on my last sentence. I am sure that Mr McAllion will be able to speak later in the debate.

I am immensely disappointed that legitimate concerns raised in members' business are reduced to that party level. I would like to be proved wrong. I urge the minister to put aside party considerations and consider only the uncertain future for Verdant Works and RRS Discovery.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

If we have speeches of about four minutes, I should get everybody in.

Photo of Kate Maclean Kate Maclean Labour 5:14 pm, 18th September 2002

I welcome the opportunity to discuss the future of Verdant Works and Discovery Point. They are in my constituency and have played a significant role in the renaissance of Dundee as a vibrant and exciting place in which to live, invest and visit.

I am disappointed that, despite representations made by John McAllion, me and others over many months to the previous minister, Allan Wilson, and to the current minister, Dr Elaine Murray, we seem to be no nearer a solution to the financial difficulties faced by Dundee Industrial Heritage.

Many industrial museums throughout Scotland are facing financial difficulties. It is ironic that many of the historic buildings, parks and collections that attract central funding were built on the backs of working-class people whose heritage is now in danger of being lost. It is inconceivable that we should allow these important records of our history to be lost forever. It seems that working-class history and heritage are undervalued by the Scottish Executive and funding bodies.

I want to concentrate on Verdant Works, as the financial crisis it faces is more pressing than others at this time. In spite of the sterling efforts of Dundee Industrial Heritage and the generosity of many organisations and individuals in and around Dundee, there is a possibility that Verdant Works will close if the Scottish Executive does not intervene.

I implore the minister not to underestimate the importance of retaining this working museum of the jute industry, which has significance not only locally but nationally and internationally. I am particularly interested in the role that the jute industry has played in the political development of Dundee women, as referred to by Irene McGugan. That area has particular significance to me as I am a Dundee woman. Like a lot of Dundonians my age and older, many of my relatives, including my mother, worked in the mill. The activity around the mill and the smell of jute in the part of Dundee where I grew up—it was surrounded by jute mills—are an integral part of my childhood memories.

Women mill workers made up three quarters of the work force in the jute mills and were independent and actively involved in the struggle for votes. Dundee men stayed at home and, in those days, were not referred to as new men but as kettle bilers. Uniquely, women dominated the labour market in Dundee. They were seen as, perhaps, just a little bit intimidating. The Verdant Works website describes Dundee mill workers as being

"overdressed, loud, bold-eyed girls" who could often be seen as fou o drink as any Dundee man. Some things never change.

It will be a disgrace if Dundee Industrial Heritage is not given the necessary assistance. The people of Dundee value their proud history and will not take kindly to the Scottish Executive standing back and allowing this crucial part of it to be lost.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 5:17 pm, 18th September 2002

I congratulate Irene McGugan on securing the debate. It is important that we take the opportunity to discuss the matter this afternoon.

Tourism is vital to Dundee and Tayside. My research tells me that about one in 10 jobs in the area depends on it. The RRS Discovery and the Verdant Works, both run by Dundee Heritage Trust, are two key components of the area's tourism infrastructure. Last summer, David Davidson and I went to the Verdant Works to see what they have to offer the public. I have with me a fine photograph of him and me playing with the guards outside the main door. I do not think that we looked entirely appropriate, but at least I can claim to have Oor Wullie's haircut. We were impressed with what we saw at the Verdant Works, and it is significant that it was named the best industrial museum in Europe in 1999-2000.

Apart from the Verdant Works's value as a tourist attraction, the museum also commemorates the heritage of Dundee. Downstairs, the museum has machinery that recreates the work that was done there. I do not remember the smell of jute because of any time spent living in Dundee but because, as a farmer, I have used the twine and bags that were manufactured by the Dundee jute industry. That smell brought back a great many memories to me.

If the Verdant Works did not exist, our knowledge of Dundee's jute industry and the associated culture would be vastly and irreplaceably reduced. That is why the upstairs part of the Verdant Works is significant. It commemorates, through photographs and people's stories, the memory of the people who were alive when the jute industry was important to Dundee. We should remember that that time is at the absolute limit of living memory. When we lose that, the museum will be all that we have left.

I am aware that the financial crisis that endangers the survival of Dundee Heritage Trust has led to cutting back of staff numbers and the regrettable departure of chief executive Alan Rankin, with whom David Davidson and I held talks when we visited the premises last year.

That the Dundee and Tayside areas were prepared to support the "keep Verdant working" public appeal and to raise the £89,000 that was mentioned is a sign of the level of support for Verdant Works. I take the opportunity to thank The Courier and Advertiser for the work that it did in running that story, which it did for so long.

Although I am reassured that Dundee Heritage Trust says that the visiting numbers at RRS Discovery are holding up—it seems to be on target to reach its 68,000-visitor target—the fact that visitor numbers at Verdant Works are 35 per cent below target demonstrates the crisis that Verdant Works now faces. It is clear that the museum desperately needs more income than the £27,000 subsidy that it receives from Dundee City Council to allow it to function and, in turn, to allow Dundee Heritage Trust to survive. However, any extra support that Verdant Works needs is likely to be small compared with the £3.5 million that it cost to set the museum up.

Although I understand that the Executive cannot fund all museums in Scotland, I look forward to hearing from Elaine Murray what positive, practical support the Executive can offer Dundee Heritage Trust—not least to help it with its marketing—to ensure the short-term survival of Verdant Works and, in turn, the survival of the RRS Discovery, which is tied to that of Verdant Works. The alternative is for Verdant Works to close down and for the city of discovery to loose the RRS Discovery.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party 5:21 pm, 18th September 2002

I congratulate Irene McGugan on securing the debate and I commend her for it—there would otherwise have been no opportunity to discuss the important issues that we are discussing.

Over the past few months, a flood of ministers has visited Dundee for one reason or another. That will not have escaped the attention of many members. It is lovely to see all those ministers, but we would like them to put their efforts to more practical use. Something practical that ministers who come to Dundee could do is save two of Dundee's important tourist attractions.

It is all very well to talk about wanting to turn the city around, about the future or about how Dundee has changed—that is great—but the city will not be turned around if tourist attractions such as the RRS Discovery and Verdant Works go. They are important for the tourism industry in Dundee, but they are also important for the perception of Dundee. Too many people from elsewhere—not only in Scotland, but in the United Kingdom and Europe—do not know that Dundee exists or, if they do, do not have the best image of the city. That is why Dundee's heritage is so important. It is important that we protect that heritage and turn the situation around.

Irene McGugan outlined the financial problems that face Dundee Heritage Trust. Although Dundee City Council—praise where it is due—has managed to increase its grant to Dundee Heritage Trust by £1,000, it is not able to bail the trust out. The financial problem is far too big for the council to cope with. The question comes down to what the minister will do to save two of Dundee's important tourist attractions. What will she do to ensure that Dundee's tourism industry goes uphill instead of downhill? What will she do to ensure that Dundee's reputation as a centre for tourism is maintained?

A recent report to Dundee City Council noted that a positive effort had been made on the promotion of the RRS Discovery and Verdant Works and that that had resulted in an 8.5 per cent increase in total visitor numbers over the past year to nearly 92,000. That is a success to be celebrated, but what is the point of celebrating if the attractions are under threat? To lose the key staff who have been lost makes closure more likely because they are not there to promote the attractions.

Although cost-cutting measures had to be implemented because of the dire financial situation, they will make the situation worse. As Irene McGugan rightly says, we are at crisis point. If the minister does not intervene now, it will be her responsibility if Dundee's tourism industry takes a turn for the worse.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour 5:25 pm, 18th September 2002

I, too, begin by congratulating Irene McGugan on securing the debate, which is important in allowing the Parliament to hear the points that have to be made on the subject. Given that members' business debates are controlled through the political parties, and given my and Irene McGugan's respective standings in our own parties, it was always more likely that she would secure a debate on the issue.

I regret any attempt to make party politics out of the issue. Irene referred to the e-mail that was sent to Kate Maclean and me by the minister. I can inform Irene that I sent the e-mail straight back, saying that I would be making the same demands that Irene McGugan was making in any meeting that I might have with the minister. It is essential that all those who claim to represent any section of opinion in the city of Dundee should unite around such issues and not seek to make capital out of them in any way.

Let me get on to the heart of the motion, which states

"that the Scottish Executive should put in place a financial package with immediate effect", including revenue support for the two attractions that are under debate. We do not argue that case because Dundee Heritage Trust is in any sense spendthrift or irresponsible. In fact, the trust has repeatedly attempted to cut costs. It has cut the number of staff and it has even sacrificed its chief executive, Alan Rankin—a man who has many outstanding achievements to his name, not least having been credited with attracting the tall ships event to Dundee. The trust has been the very model of responsibility in trying to look after these two important items of our heritage.

We are not asking for national support because the people in Dundee are not prepared to support what some people might argue are local attractions. As we have already heard, nearly £100,000 was raised by the citizens of Dundee last year, which indicates how important the attractions are to them. Although Dundee City Council is itself hard-pressed for money it has, in trying to support the museums for which it has responsibility, still been able to give more support to the city's heritage.

I wish to stress to the minister the reason why we are asking for national support.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

I appreciate what Mr McAllion is saying, but does he agree that both the Verdant Works and the Discovery are very much at risk, and that they are not just local attractions? They might well benefit Dundee and the immediate surrounding area significantly, but they are national, if not international, attractions. Does he agree that there is therefore a national responsibility to ensure that they continue to receive the support that they need for the future?

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion Labour

That is my position; it is exactly what I was going to say. I was saying that some people from outside Dundee may take the view that it is we in the city who should support local attractions, but I argue against that. If we do not secure the financial package, Verdant Works will close. The situation is as stark as that and the minister must take that on board when she decides how to reply to the debate.

The Verdant Works and the Discovery are national treasures. Verdant Works is the only jute museum in Scotland, and gives a unique insight into the role of women in the industrial history of Scotland. Among workers in the jute industry in Dundee, the ratio of women to men was about 3:1. If anyone who wants to find out what contribution women made to the industrial history of Scotland, they should go to Dundee and find out about the history of the jute industry and of the women who worked in it. At that time, and even today, that remains an issue of national importance.

People used to use the phrase "jute, jam and journalism" about Dundee. It is no accident that jute came first, because it was by far the most important. The best history book about Dundee that I have read is called "Juteopolis". Jute is at the heart of Dundee's social and political history, and indeed is at the heart of Scotland's social and political history.

I remember reading about Winston Churchill being kicked out of Dundee back in the 1920s. Clementine Churchill had gone to some meeting with her fur coat and pearls and had been spat upon by the women there. That was no accident, because the women who worked in the factories in Dundee knew where their working-class interests lay. They made a tremendous political contribution to the history of the city and of Scotland. Are we really saying that such contributions should be shoved aside and forgotten, or consigned to the dustbin of history because Scotland does not care about what people in Dundee did in those important times?

Dundee's local economy is in a state of transition. When I went to the city in the early 1970s, the first thing that struck me was the proletarian nature of Dundee. It was a city of manufacturing, where people worked in factories. Dundee had a very small middle class and a massive working class, but global changes have transformed that situation. Manufacturing has gone into decline and we have moved into new industries. Central to those is tourism, and central to tourism is heritage. It is essential that Verdant Works be kept open, because if Verdant goes, Dundee Heritage Trust will be undermined and if the trust is undermined, Discovery will go. That would be a national tragedy.

Photo of Ian Jenkins Ian Jenkins Liberal Democrat 5:30 pm, 18th September 2002

I do not pretend to know Dundee as well as the preceding members. I first went to Dundee when playing golf at Carnoustie. On that occasion, I sneaked away early to see a Brigitte Bardot film. I was very impressed by Brigitte Bardot, but I was not very impressed by Dundee. However, as I matured I recognised Dundee as a great city that has made a distinctive and substantial contribution to Scottish life and culture.

John McAllion referred to the jute industry. Members have spoken most eloquently—in a way that I could not match—about the importance of that industry and about how it reflects the social history of working-class women in Dundee. We know about the jute and the jam, about Dundee cakes, about Dundee marmalade, about the Beano and The Dandy, and about the songs—about the road and the miles to Dundee, and, more scurrilously, about the Dundee weaver. Famous figures in history such as Cochrane and William McGonagall are associated with Dundee.

Those are traditional images and symbols of Dundee. They are genuine and have considerable resonance in expressing the city's identity. However, on recent visits I have been greatly taken by the new and positive aspects of the city's public face and personality. I am thinking of the pioneering contemporary arts centre; the lively street sculpture across from the Caird Hall; the vibrant productions and social inclusion programmes of the Dundee Repertory Company; and the stylish new Overgate shopping centre. Dundee is a lively city that is reinvigorating itself after encountering difficult economic times, as its traditional industries declined. Members have spoken about the vital importance of tourism for the city and the part that it can play in Dundee's recovery.

The symbol of Dundee's new civic vibrancy is the historic ship Discovery and the development at Discovery Point. "Dundee—City of Discovery" is a brilliant slogan. It highlights the special status of the ship and embodies Dundee's ambition to be a city that is looking forward to a positive future. The slogan and the ship have begun to do for Dundee what the phrase "Glasgow's miles better" did for that other great city, and to enter public consciousness. As Irene McGugan said, both attractions—the Verdant Works and the Discovery—have won awards.

It is unthinkable that the flagship of the new Dundee should be threatened seriously with closure. I hope that genuinely sustainable ways can be found of preserving Discovery's unique status and place in the life of the city. Discovery has a status that is recognised far beyond these shores. Earlier this year I was contacted by the chairman of the World Ship Trust, who asked for our support in drawing ministers' attention to the threat to Discovery, which is part of the United Kingdom's core collection of historic vessels.

I recognise that ministers are in the process of consultation following the national museums audit, which was completed earlier this year. I know that they are seeking an overview of museums of all types in Scotland and of the relationships between them, so that they may establish a sustainable future for our cultural heritage at both national and local level. I hope that, while that process is under way, the Dundee Heritage Trust will be able to draw up a feasible business plan that outlines a sustainable future for the two museums. I hope that it will be supported in that task by the Executive and others, and that the precipitate closure of either facility can be avoided.

Sustainability is important. We must not pay out substantial funds for a short-term solution, only to have to deal with further crisis demands 12 months down the road. We need to answer important questions about how we deal with our museums—especially our industrial museums, such as Verdant Works. A piecemeal approach, in which we allow sentiment to rule our heads on a case-by-case basis, could prove damaging to the future of heritage provision across the country. Both the Dundee attractions are of substantial importance and have resonance way beyond Dundee. On that basis, I argue for them to be supported.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party 5:35 pm, 18th September 2002

I congratulate Irene McGugan on securing the debate. I was delighted to hear from John McAllion that when he received the e-mail from the minister he sent it straight back. He is no kettle biler—he is not standing behind, but coming forward on this matter. As a former business manager, I have to say that the e-mail is disgraceful and I hope that attention will be paid to it.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

The SNP ranks seem to be making great play of the e-mail, which was not leaked to the SNP but sent to somebody with a similar surname to the member for whom it was intended.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

No, just be quiet and listen. I sent the e-mail to two constituency members for Dundee, because Kate Maclean in particular had been very active in lobbying on the matter. The fact that they were two Labour members had nothing to do with it.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Well, no doubt some people will believe that.

Verdant Works is extremely important and I was pleased to go there with Irene McGugan and Shona Robison last year. Verdant Works is not unique in Scotland by any means. Yesterday I was at the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine, which has laid off a substantial number of staff and faces a bleak future—yet it is one of the industrial museums that has apparently been saved.

I heard Ian Jenkins's eloquent plea for more time and more debate. The problem with that is that with every day and month that passes we lose parts of Scotland's heritage, because the process has taken so long. We are now in yet another consultation process leading to a conference in November.

In the accidentally sent e-mail, the minister says:

"It is highly unlikely that a positive response can be made to the central demand for reasons which will become clearer tomorrow."

The e-mail was sent the day before the comprehensive spending review announcement. We knew then and we know now that there is no more money for this task. The problem is that the situation cannot be resolved without more resources.

I have slight sympathy for the minister, because an accidental set of circumstances has come together. Individual enterprise put together the successful package in Dundee, just as individual enterprise put together something very important in the mining museum at Wanlockhead. Now we require a national approach to the issue of what is valuable within our heritage and how we sustain it nationally. We have to find the line that we can draw between local provision, which local authorities and others support, and national provision. That line has not been drawn and consequently museums such as Verdant Works and attractions such as Discovery are suffering, because they are getting neither one thing nor the other. They are not getting enough local authority funding, because local authorities are tight for funding, and they are not getting enough national funding, because we have not got a national structure in place.

The minister can take the position that her predecessors have taken—they are thinking about the problem and they will eventually come back with a solution. With every day that they think about it, we have more problems. They could accept that it is not a perfect solution to say, "Let's take what we have and build on it." We should take the things of national importance that exist, such as Verdant Works and Discovery and a variety of other attractions, stabilise them and make them part of a national structure. I suggest to the minister that that should be tied in closely with the Royal Museum of Scotland and National Museums of Scotland structure, which seems to be the right basis on which to build. Having done that, we should proceed.

Of course there will be losers in that. Some of the smaller museums in local authority control will be problematic. There will be issues to discuss, such as the great collections in Glasgow. The minister must commit herself to a national structure now. In the minister's response I do not want to hear the words, "feasibility studies", "consultants' reports", "more time", "more debate" and "marketing assistance". The reality is that there is a real need now. We have had three years of debate on museums. Why do we not have action?

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 5:39 pm, 18th September 2002

I congratulate Irene McGugan on the motion. I am delighted that at last we have such good cross-party support for an important set of projects. Before I organised the meeting with Mr Johnstone and our colleague Councillor Scott, I was well briefed by the people who work in Dundee Heritage Trust, the local enterprise company and the area tourist board. I was even briefed by the council. Everybody agreed that no one agency could deliver a solution to this terrible problem.

When we went to the trust, I was able to explain that I had had two meetings with the ministers whom I considered relevant to the issue. One was Alasdair Morrison, who had responsibility for tourism at that time, and the other was that famous poet, Allan Wilson. They both decided that it was the other's responsibility. There was no such thing as collective ministerial responsibility on behalf of the nation. They were not even prepared to sit jointly with me and consult. They had made up their minds that they could do nothing until the audit was complete. However, all the work in the lead-up to the audit has been done by the trust; we do not need another raft of preparation work.

I have often said in this chamber that there is no point in throwing huge sums at projects if the future revenue flows are not considered. As Ian Jenkins said, sustainability has to be taken into account in all decisions.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Mr Davidson makes a very sensible point, but does he accept that we have to act with what we are given? A number of projects need support now. Does he also accept that, because of the proliferation of projects with millennium funding, we may, unless we do something now, have problems that recur year after year after year, as has happened in Irvine with The Big Idea?

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

In last year's debate on the new opportunities fund, I highlighted the problem that more and more new projects are appearing—they are very glossy and have very good spin, but they have no chance of sustainability.

I will not go on about the heritage aspects of the Verdant Works. It is a vital history book; it offers a good teaching process; it has a superb system of volunteers helping to staff it; and it is in crisis. There are no ifs and buts. However, as has been said before, if the mill goes down, it will put in jeopardy the RSS Discovery project, which is Dundee's flagship. It has given the city a focus.

Tourism is not just about getting bodies into Scotland; it is about dispersing them around Scotland. If members consider the corner in the north-east, what else is there to take them there—other than golf, some fine weather, fishing villages and so on? On the doorstep, in the city, we have major attractions that people would find worth a look. We have heritage aspects, historical aspects, the genealogy point of view—I could go on and on.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

No—the member is in his last minute.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I want to make a serious point. Apart from considering the attraction to local people, if ministers are serious about heritage, and if they are serious about linking heritage to tourism—which is an Executive claim—they have a duty to act together. Individual ministers should not say that some particular project does not fit perfectly into their brief and so do a Pontius Pilate and wash their hands and walk away.

We must consider all projects that can benefit tourism, the economy, history and the development of culture. I credit the people on the board who have worked and struggled manfully, with support from the local authority and other agencies. I hope that, when summing up, the minister will agree to work with other ministers to ensure that this great project in Dundee can be saved.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 5:43 pm, 18th September 2002

I, too, congratulate Irene McGugan on securing this debate. I live in Aberdeen now, but when I was elected to this Parliament I lived in Dundee. I have many fond memories of living in the city—the beer was a bit cheaper, it did not rain all that much and, of course, the city had many cultural attractions that I used to enjoy regularly. I still represent the city as part of the North-East Scotland constituency.

I used to work for the economic development department of Dundee City Council, dealing with inward investment. The issue we are discussing today is an economic issue. When we try to attract companies to locate in cities, we do not just tell them about the skills base of the city, the available factory space or the financial incentives; we try to sell the quality of life in the city. We used to make great play of that in Dundee, trying to get folk to come to the city. That is done by explaining the cultural backbone of the city, its identity, and its attractions. Our brochures and promotional material featured the Verdant Works and Discovery Point, as well as Camperdown country park and other attractions. Quality of life is essential for the economic future of the city. That is why today's debate is so important. I ask the minister to take that point on board.

We set up a film initiative to attract screen work to the city—to promote the city as a location for promotional videos for businesses, pop videos, television programmes and film work. Lo and behold, the number 1 attraction that was used to promote that initiative was Verdant Works. The other attractions in the city were also important.

We cannot afford to let such places close.

The issue is about not just the identity of the city or its culture, but economics. I think that £120,000 is a cheap price to pay for promoting those issues and values. I ask the minister to give a positive response to today's debate.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 5:45 pm, 18th September 2002

I, too, congratulate Irene McGugan on securing today's debate.

No one is trying to deny the local importance of either RRS Discovery or Verdant Works, or the national and international significance of the Discovery. Verdant Works is widely recognised as an important tourist attraction—VisitScotland would not have given it a five-star award were it not. However, that award is not a guarantor of direct central Government financial support.

I will turn to the rather sanctimonious points made by Mr Russell. I have been lobbied by Kate Maclean for some time. She has not chosen to highlight the issue through a members' business debate, but she has worked extremely hard behind the scenes on behalf of Dundee Heritage Trust. She persuaded me to meet Dundee Heritage Trust and she has had meetings with Mike Watson, Andy Kerr and Allan Wilson. I make no apology for offering to talk to her about what she wanted out of the debate, because I know how hard she has worked on the issue in the past.

It may well be that Irene McGugan has written to me about the matter—I do not recall having received a letter from Irene McGugan but I may be wrong and she may have written. I do recollect the fairly insistent lobbying by Kate Maclean on the matter.

Photo of Irene McGugan Irene McGugan Scottish National Party

I will accept that lesson. I will be much more strident in future. I wrote to the minister asking for a meeting and she refused.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I do not recall having seen that letter. I will chase that up.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

She was probably too busy reading e-mails.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

Mr Russell is extremely amusing—he should not give up the day job.

I do not in any way dispute the importance of the Discovery or Verdant Works. I would not be pleased to see either of the attractions close—that is not on anyone's agenda.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

No, I want to get on.

Scotland's industrial heritage sector is extremely important. Many independent museums—many of which are themselves significant—have items of significance in their collections. Industrial museums make up nine of the 400 independent museums in Scotland. The national audit, about which many members seem to be rather cynical, identified how many national treasures we have dispersed throughout Scotland. That is why we are continuing to consider an action plan.

Perhaps people do not want to hear about an action plan for Scotland's museums—perhaps they would prefer to have soundbites and bits and pieces of political argument. However, I want to develop a serious and sustainable museums strategy for Scotland, so that we do not lurch from funding crisis to funding crisis.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

No. I do not want to continue to be interrupted. I want to make some progress.

The independent sector is supported to a degree by local government. Dundee Heritage Trust receives £26,000 per annum from Dundee City Council. That contribution is important, although it is clear that it does not fill the gap that the industrial heritage museum faces. Other councils support other heritage museums: North Ayrshire Council gives £86,000 to the Scottish Maritime Museum and Dumfries and Galloway Council gives £35,000 to Wanlockhead. There is significant support from local authorities and their contribution is important. I will say more about that later. There is a balance to be struck between what central Government does and what local government does in terms of how funding should be directed.

The only statutory responsibility that the Executive has is to fund the national institutions. The National Museums of Scotland will receive approximately £17.5 million in grant aid in this financial year. On top of that, the Scottish Museums Council, which is an independent membership organisation that advises Scottish ministers on museums policy, will receive approximately £1.2 million. That organisation has a membership of approximately 200 and it also provides financial support to local museums.

In 2000, the original commitment in the national cultural strategy was an allocation of £3 million to fund strategic change. That was in recognition of the fact that the funding structures for the museums sector are not stable and there must be strategic change in the way in which we manage our museums so that they can continue without such crises.

The Scottish Museums Council received £250,000, so that it could conduct a national audit. That was not for the sake of having an audit; it was for the sake of finding out what we have in Scotland, where the important artefacts are and how we can support those.

As has been mentioned, in December 2000, £1.26 million was allocated to support three of the industrial museums. I appreciate that that decision might have caused problems for other members of the sector, because it looked like three museums received special treatment. Members will appreciate that that happened before my time as a minister. The point was to try to stabilise those museums—they appeared to be in a period of crisis—until the national audit had been completed and a better policy could be developed.

That leaves £1.5 million in the strategic change fund for the next two years. This year, £0.5 million is available. That £0.5 million was launched in May and provides grants of up to £100,000 to help to finance projects aimed at strategic change.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

No. I want to elaborate on that point because it is important.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I have taken quite a number of interventions from the SNP. If members would stop chipping my ear, I would like to explore the possibility that the strategic change fund might be able to provide something for Verdant Works.

To be eligible for a grant, museums must hold collections of national significance, and must be able to demonstrate best practice in building audiences, in building capacity—including partnerships, enterprise, tourism and education—and in increasing access to exhibits. That might include the help with marketing that Alex Johnstone talked about.

I am not aware whether Dundee Heritage Trust has applied for funding from the strategic change fund, which is being managed by the Scottish Museums Council. Kate Maclean can take back to Dundee Heritage Trust the suggestion that it consider discussing with the Scottish Museums Council whether or not there is a possibility of grant.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I am pleased to hear that. That was something my officials did not make me aware of. I am grateful to Mike Russell for giving me that information. I am encouraged by that because Verdant Works, having done work on restructuring and increasing access, would hopefully be in a position to be considered favourably.

I appreciate that the funding is not revenue funding that continues for a long period of time. It would only be available in two tranches over two years. However, it might give Dundee Heritage Trust a package of funding that would enable it to continue until we can find another way.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I seek clarification from the minister. Inside the Discovery, there are many artefacts of international importance. Is there any way that the minister could arrange—or could she advise how we could arrange—support because of that? That would be of assistance to Dundee Heritage Trust, even though it would help just one part of its interests.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

David Davidson raises an important point. We have had the national audit and the current consultation was launched by Mike Watson in July. The consultation process is intended to develop the action plan for Scotland's museums.

We have to be clear about who does what in the museums sector. I do not have a back pocket full of cheques so that every time—

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The minister is quite a bit over time already.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

Mike Russell referred to Tain during his contribution in the debate on the spending review. In response to that, I would say that we have to set up a structure and decide who does what.

We must establish what is of national significance and what role the National Museums of Scotland should play, not only in supporting galleries and museums here in Edinburgh but also in supporting collections and items of national significance elsewhere. I would like a better plan to emerge from the audit, to determine how the statutory responsibility of the Scottish Executive can better support nationally significant collections throughout Scotland, rather than just those in museums in the capital.

I assure David Davidson that I will examine the matter that he has raised. I agree that we should look more carefully at the situation, and that there might well be other issues about support for organisations that have not been supported in that way in the past. The issue is still under consideration, the consultation is still under way and the conference will happen. The consultation will cease on 6 December and I hope that the action plan will be ready in the spring. We should not spend too much more time talking about that, but I will say that we need to get the plan right.

I cannot make promises about recurrent revenue funding. Mike Russell was right to spot the fact that there was no additional money in the spending review for the museums sector. There was a lot of money for many other things, but he was certainly correct in spotting that almost straight away. There is no additional money at the moment, and I cannot give a guarantee at present. If Dundee Heritage Trust has gone to the strategic change fund, there may be some hope in that. I also hope that the trust will get involved in the consultation process.

I would encourage anybody who is genuinely interested in the museums sector to get involved in the consultation process and in building an action plan to make museums in Scotland sustainable so that we do not continue in crisis. Umpteen museums say that they have deficits of £10,000, £30,000 or £100,000. We must get ourselves out of that mentality and into a situation in which Scotland's heritage infrastructure is on a sound financial footing.

If a lot more money came my way for museums, I would not necessarily want the Executive to give it out directly. I would rather channel it through local authorities or other local agencies so that they could make decisions about what is valuable to local residents and what is important to the local economy. I do not want to be involved in a Big Brother style of government, in which we subsidise everything. I want to work with other people by channelling money through other partnerships and bodies.

I cannot give a commitment on recurrent revenue funding, as I do not have that money in the budget line. However, I do not want valuable and important heritage museums to be lost, and I hope that we will be able to find a way forward, through the discussions that will take place during the next two or three months.

Meeting closed at 17:58.