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Scottish Government culture minister Neil Gray tells XpoNorth conference that creative industries are central to our lives and urges creatives to play their part in plans for the future of the sector

By Margaret Chrystall

An appeal for creatives and creative businesses to play their part in the future of the sector both at home and abroad, came as part of the first event at the XpoNorth two-day online conference.

Neil Gray, MSP, Minister for culture, Europe and international development and special responsibility for refugees from Ukraine.
Neil Gray, MSP, Minister for culture, Europe and international development and special responsibility for refugees from Ukraine.

It was made by Neil Gray, the Scottish Government of culture, Europe and international development with special responsibility for refugees from Ukraine, as he welcomed those attending XpoNorth to the online two-day event. He also highlighted some of the sessions to come, after setting the scene on the background about the creative industries in Scotland – and the Highlands.

He highlighted the vital role they could play in communities and rural areas with a real push on to equip students with the skills they need to contribute to Highlands and Islands businesses.

Referring to Scotland’s national strategy for economic transformation which was published in March, the minister said the strategy should help address some of the issues that face the creative industries. As the delivery of the strategy is still being designed, he said, he wanted to invite creative businesses and creatives to read and digest it and to play a part to ensure their needs are met.

Opening the event, the minister had said: “XpoNorth continues to provide excellent opportunities and events for creative industries all year round with this annual conference being the pinnacle.

“This collaborative spirit is an essential driver of the creative economy of the Highlands and Islands. Scottish creative businesses deliver a clear economic value.”

And he highlighted figures that might represent a much bigger contribution to Scotland’s economy than a lot of people might guess.

The minister said: “Together they support an estimated £9 billion of activity within the wider Scottish economy and contribute £5.5 million billion to Scotland’s GDP (gross domestic product).

“Equally important, creative businesses strengthen our communities and support our wellbeing while showcasing to the world what Scotland ‘s cultural sector has to offer.”

“Our creative businesses are often categorised as small businesses but their impact is wide and significant. They often have global markets and yet they are still firmly planted in their communities and they bring those benefits back to their roots.

“It is therefore of paramount importance that we work to retain young creatives in our rural communities to ensure the benefits continue to seep back into our local communities. The creative industries are often looked at as an urban industry, however if you look at the Highlands and Islands, it’s clear that rural areas greatly benefit from this sector too, something I’m aware of having been born and brought up in Orkney, so I really recognise the benefit creative businesses bring to rural areas – and they can be the anchor of a community.

“Through HIE’s XpoNorth programme, the LevelUp Partnership with UHI (University of the Highlands and Islands) has just started up its second year of activity after a successful first year. The purpose is to make more effective links between industry and academia to make students more employable to make sure they have the skills that businesses in the Highlands and Islands need for the future.”

He pointed out that a number of the students from LevelUp were attending XpoNorth.

“I hope they gain much from this conference,” he added.

Then he turned to the opportunity XpoNorth gives to take a look at the creative talent the area offers.

“The conference is also a chance to celebrate the wealth of talent that we have in Scotland as a whole and to show the world how great it is from the North to the South.

“It shows that the creative industries are thriving, from the gaming clusters in Dundee to the jewellery clusters in Orkney, to the Outer Hebrides being awarded the designation of World Craft City for Harris Tweed in 2018.

“And as Scottish minister for culture the creative industries are an exciting part of my portfolio. They are complex and wide-ranging in terms of output in literature, craft, art, fashion, music – to name just a few.

“They are complex too in the way they extend from community-based activity at one end of the spectrum to global commercial activity on the other.

“The potential for the creative industries in Scotland is vast on all levels and the sector is also unique as it’s distinguished by the number of freelancers and sole traders.

“We sought to support our workers during the pandemic recognising challenges, but also the unique opportunity the sector brings,” Neil Gray said. “That’s why the Scottish Government provided a considerable amount of support for freelancers during the pandemic. While I very much hope that we are in a new phase of the recovery, it would be naïve not to acknowledge the impact the pandemic has had on the creative industries over the last few years.”

The minister said that the Scottish Government had delivered £256 million of emergency funding to the culture, heritage and major events sectors over the course of the pandemic.

“We did this to protect our culture, creative businesses and people’s livelihoods, acknowledging the extreme hardship faced by these sectors in Scotland.”

But he pointed out the time had had at least one positive side-effect.

“These times were challenging but we survived.

“And some did more than just survive, they thrived.

“The pandemic has also created opportunities for businesses being flexible, creative and innovative, taken on with enthusiasm. Embracing the world of digital was part of that and XpoNorth has provided support along with partners such as Creative Scotland and our skills and enterprise agencies to deliver the Creative Digital Initiative backed by £1 million of funding from the Scottish Government to make sure creative businesses were able to capitalise on opportunities by upskilling their creative digital capabilities.

“The creative industries, are one of Scotland’s growth sectors,” the minister said. “They are a real powerhouse for economic development. They contribute to our economic strength and our mental and physical wellbeing. They spark and foster creativity and innovation, provide good, fulfilling work and raise awareness and support action on climate change – and so much more.

“They are not add-ons, they are central to our lives, to communities and Scotland’s future aspirations.”

The minister went on to highlight some of the examples of creatives in Scotland making an impact who would be appearing at the conference [these sessions are still available to watch on the XpoNorth website].

“Relating to our Net Zero ambitions, you will be able to hear from Christopher Raeburn, a Scottish pioneer in sustainable fashion design today.

“There is also a session all about how design can influence our lifestyle and wellbeing.

“And a focus on design is key to the Scottish Government’s creative industries policy statement which recognises the role design thinking can play in all parts of our economy and society, including the creative industries.”

Extending his look at the creative industries, the minister looked to the future.

“Scotland’s national strategy for economic transformation was published on March 1 and it sets out the actions needed to maximise the opportunities of the next decade to achieve our vision of a wellbeing economy.

“There is much in that strategy that should help address some of the issues that face the creative industries. As the delivery of the strategy is still being designed and I want to work with the creative industries to ensure that its needs can be met and that opportunities can benefit creative businesses and creatives alike.

“I would encourage all of you to read and digest the national strategy for economic transformation and consider how your business can play a part in supporting Scotland to achieve the vision set out.”

The minister said the creative industries leadership group submitted its report on skills and resilience in the creative industries for my consideration. They have now received my ministerial response and I’m now looking forward to working with industry to take forward joint activity. I also want to mention the work being undertaken on the national partnership for culture. It has also brought forward its recommendations for consideration and I’m looking at them and considering which ones should be taken forward.

“Work is ongoing to review the action points in the culture strategy which was published in February 2020 to ensure that they are still relevant.

He also talked about promoting Scottish cultural and creative industries internationally will also be central to our work to support and grow the sector.

“Culture diplomacy will play a key role in maintaining our vital international relationships , in showcasing the Scottish creative sector in particularly in the context of the UK’s exit from the European Union. It has the potential to develop and maintain relationships with key partners in Europe and beyond to support the sector, to work and collaborate internationally to foster vital cross-border cultural partnerships and networks.

“As such we have commited to delivering a cultural diplomacy strategy to ensure that cultural links with our partners in Europe and beyond are developed further.

“So work is ongoing to develop this strategy and this year’s conference promises a highly interactive experience with opportunities to engage in networking one-to-one and sessions, as well as the chance to virtually visit the digital trade spaces and participate in a rich programme of content that will encourage you to work collaboratively across sectors and share information and opportunities.”

You can still go and see the sessions from the conference, including the minister's welcome, online: xponorth.co.uk Also XpoNorth: review of the session on Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival: https://www.whatson-north.co.uk/whats-on/news/xponorth-event-reveals-belladrum-might-not-still-have-been-279801

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