Scottish Minister pledges to take argument for Scottish Digital Network to Westminster

THE Scottish Government is to argue for the creation of a digital TV channel dedicated to Scottish content with the UK Government, after its identity is determined at the General Election.

Speaking at a conference on the future of Scottish broadcasting – organised by the Saltire Society and the Scottish Government – Culture minister, Fiona Hyslop, restated widespread support for the creation of the Scottish Digital Network, which was the main recommendation of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, set up by First Minister, Alex Salmond, and which reported 18 months.

When asked if the Scottish Government might be willing to extend its current financial backing of BBC ALBA, by funding all or part of the estimated £75 million-a-year budget to run the SDN – the minister reminded the 200-strong audience that a block grant received from the UK government was facing a substantial cutback.

But she pledged the argument – which received unanimous backing from the Scottish Parliament in October 2008 – would be taken to Westminster when the General Election is done.

The event was addressed by Blair Jenkins, chair of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission, whose speech is reproduced on allmediascotland, here.

In a post-conference interview with, Hyslop said:

Q – You said in the conference: “Don’t ask us to do more from a limited budget” – is that fundamentally the case?

A – The Scottish Government’s budget is fixed. You can’t grow our budget in the way that the UK Government can. Any additional funding that has to be found for anything has to be found from within that so it becomes an argument of priorities. To me if you look at where the government is supporting the industry, you look at the government’s economic strategy. There are seven sectors, of which creative industries is one, so we are already making decisions to prioritise and support that industry. The case would have to be made within that context.

Q – And the blunt truth is that the block grant is down?

A – For the next year coming forward – 2010/11 – we are seeing a reduction of £800 million so that’s a big challenge for us we’re having to manage. Having said that we’ve got to look at areas of growth. At a time of recession, if we just cut back and don’t identify where areas of growth are in the future then we’re not going to be serving the public well. I do believe creative industries are the future and therefore how do we do that.

Q – In simple terms, you just can’t find within a reduced block grant the money to make it happen?

A – You’re trying to tell me I’ve got no money and I’m not going to invest and I’m not going to say that. There are lots of possibilities of what we can do – the argument has to be made and there has to be an articulation from the industry collectively, which I think we’re trying to develop, as to how we can make sure that this [Scottish Digital] Network is what we want, will stimulate the growth sustainability that we need and then we can look at our resources. The UK Government have responsibility currently in the vast majority in this area and we’re prepared, as I said in my speech, to talk with them and I will continue to have that dialogue because some of this might be a joint response. Until we have powers over the economy and budgets completely ourselves it will always have to be done as a dialogue with them. But I’m not going to commit anything from ourselves until we can get a response from the UK Government.

Q – So that’s the sequence?

A – We don’t know what the government will be. It will be a new government, as we anticipate in May, so part of what we need to do from now on in is help argue the case and say to them there are different funding mechanisms we can use – it might need public support from yourselves, ourselves as the Scottish Government, and others. But I’m not going to move until I know what the UK Government is prepared to put forward.”

Q – So, if I’ve read you correctly, you’re going to take an argument for the Scottish Digital Network to the UK Government post General Election?

A – Yes.

Q – In the meantime you’re unable to commit to dipping into a reduced block grant to pay for it solely from the Scottish Government?

A – I don’t think people will be expecting the Scottish Government under the current devolved powers to fully fund this ourselves.

Q  So that’s a pledge? After the General Election you’re going to take the argument for the Scottish Digital Network to the UK Government?

A – Yes.

Q – Are you expecting them to pay for it in whole or in part?

A – I don’t negotiate by interview.

Q – So, to be clear, there is a pledge that you will take the argument to Westminster after the General Election in order to get this Scottish Digital Network up and running?

A – Yes.