Peril at Perth…

“I would like to thank both Mark and Robert for their service and commitment during their time with us … and wish them every success in the future.” *

No such announcement comes when there is a parting of the ways with Boards of artistic companies. Resignations and leaving for a mutually acceptable reason seem to be beyond the capability of an industry trying to portray itself as a liberal establishment with diversity on its mind.

It appears to me, at times, that in Scotland we seem to have a conceit of our own progress.

As well as mass resignations at Horsecross in Perth we have had the announcement of a new team at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. The first was down to a report blaming appalling fiscal mismanagement, the second shows a lack of non white people of note able to serve Scotland’s premium writing theatre.

On top of these developments we have also had an increasing number of Scottish d/Deaf actors, graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s award winning first ever acting degree for d/Deaf actors getting work – almost exclusively in England…

The problem of diversity though was not at the heart of Horsecross’s problem and Horsecross has remained tight-lipped about the reasons for the mass exodus. It was left to the media relations manager at Horsecross, Pam Dochard, to tell the trade paper, The Stage: “All we can say from outgoing chairman Iain M Halliday MBE is that ‘the board believed that the future of the organisation would be best served with a completely new set of independent Trustees’.”

Two weeks prior, it had been announced that they had lost the artistic director at Perth Theatre, Rachel O’Riordan, to the same role at Sherman Cymru in Cardiff. Not long after came the shock of chief executive Jacqueline McKay resigning for “personal reasons”. She had only been in post for a year.

The organisation she is leaving, Horsecross Arts was established in 2005 to work on the development of Perth Theatre and their Rep as well as Perth Concert Hall. Both are very impressive artistic organisations. Mind you Perth sits in a prime position and was once, a very long time ago, Scotland’s capital. It is just enough north of the central belt of Scotland that people who want to escape any deindustrialisation can feel they are still within touching distance of a decent smashed avocado on toast.

The price of such a breakfast aside, the financial model on which Horsecross was based, a 50/50 split that helped run each venture – 50% earned income/50% subsidy from a variety of sources – was insufficiently sound to run the company for this full year. The board had noticed a wee hole in the accounts. Truth be told it was more gaping than wee and they went to ask for more.

They got some.

Then it was discovered it wasn’t enough.

And then the funding bodies decided enough was pigging well enough and the Board was mutually let go.

The financial crisis first came to light in July, according to Perth and Kinross Council, who are the largest funder of the organisation. According to the council, once they knew, “the council has been working closely with the Horsecross board and management on how the organisation can stabilise its financial position and move forward. This work will continue.”

How much of a gaping hole there was can only be down to pure speculation, given the lack of facts. Most keen observers and those who have more than a glancing acquaintance with the company put it down to around £500,000 locally. Horsecross dispute it and now five new directors are being sought to join the three councillors already in place.

The previous boards seems to have decided to fall on their own swords and now an interim board has been put in charge to ensure survival with, at its head, former Chair of the now defunct Scottish Arts Council, Magnus Linklater. Clearly designed to give stability and a message to people that all may now be better what is clear is that all is not well because it is not all over yet.

The question becomes, in an economic mire of its own creation should the awarding bodies be bailing out a failing model? Oh, and is it a failing model?

The arts in Scotland can hardly fail to be able to point towards the many and terrible failures of their past – Third Eye, Byre Theatre, funding round decisions by Creative Scotland reversed though still with the loss of companies like Fire Exit and the near loss of the Scottish Youth Theatre. Perth Theatre is also preparing for a major £13.5 million refurbishment and upgrade that will leave the theatre dark for two years.

It’s tough gig this giving out cash to artistic enterprises, because there is little reward in it and it’s very tough. I mean really tough. I am a former member of a board of at least two theatre companies. Giving out money can be tough indeed, but keeping it rolling in to ensure the survival of the company itself is even harder.

* Part of the press release which accompanied the announcement that first team coach, Mark Roberts and his assistant had left Queen’s Park Football Club by mutual consent.