Robert Burns

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 27 February 2003.

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Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative 2:30, 27 February 2003

To ask the Scottish Executive what assessment has been made of the importance of the birthplace and artefacts of Robert Burns to the Ayrshire and Scotland economy and heritage. (S1O-6518)

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour

The Scottish Executive has not carried out an assessment of the economic impact of Burns's birthplace and artefacts. However, I understand that an analysis of figures from Scottish Enterprise, Ayrshire and Arran Tourist Board and industry bodies was undertaken recently by the World Bank on behalf of BBC Radio Scotland. That produced a figure of £157 million as annual income that is generated for the Scottish economy through the celebration of Burns and his legacy.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I go along with the figures to which the minister referred. Does the minister accept that much of those earnings come from the central attraction of Burns's birthplace itself—the cottage—and the museum that stands alongside the cottage? Does he acknowledge that the museum is not perhaps up to the standards that we should expect? Manuscripts of Burns's writing and other artefacts are leaving the museum to come to Edinburgh; does the minister acknowledge that that is wrong and that it should not happen? For the sake of Ayrshire's economy and Burns's heritage, will the minister say what he could do to help the situation?

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour

It is interesting that Phil Gallie, a representative of a party whose leader, Iain Duncan Smith, has advocated a 20 per cent cut in public expenditure, should be asking me to spend more. The Burns cottage museum is part of the Burns National Heritage Park, which has submitted an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is being considered, for the upkeep and various other aspects of the museum.

We are aware that the 250th anniversary of Burns's birth is approaching; that is why we are putting money into a number of social inclusion areas to encourage young people to get involved in actively studying Burns. We will continue to do that and we will continue to put money into the Burns festival, the first of which was very successful last year. We will continue with that; we feel that that is, at this stage, the best way to ensure that access to Burns's legacy is as wide as possible for people in Scotland and people coming to Scotland.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

Whatever happened to Allan Wilson's pledge some two years ago to put Burns at the heart of the Executive's efforts to boost cultural tourism? Does not the total lack of support from the Executive for the Burns museum in Alloway expose the hollowness of its rhetoric on this, as on so many other issues?

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour

No it does not, because I have just outlined the resources that we are putting into Burns. We are putting in £300,000 to the projects that I mentioned and last year we put £100,000 into the Burns festival, which will play a major part in attracting people to Ayrshire. The Burns Heritage Trust is an independent organisation that is not funded directly by the Executive, which is why it has gone to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the funding that it believes it needs. It has raised about half of the money that it needs through other means. The idea that the trust is somehow being ignored is not the case; the trust is an independent organisation and we happen to be putting our money into other aspects of celebrating Burns and his legacy.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour

Does the minister think that VisitScotland is doing enough to promote Burns to tourists in Scotland and overseas?

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour

The "Burns and a' that" festival that I mentioned is being taken forward with the assistance of VisitScotland. Could we do more? Yes, I suppose that we could always do more; that is what we are trying to do. VisitScotland is directly involved, as are local enterprise companies and Scottish Enterprise, in taking forward our marketing of Burns. I will continue to ensure that VisitScotland has an important input to that in the years ahead.