What’s in a name?

BEFS Director examines the changes in the Scottish Government and portfolio names.

With the changes across the Cabinet and Ministerial portfolios we at BEFS find ourselves asking, “what is in a name?”

Below we’ve compiled a table where you can see: the previous role titles, the new role titles, name of the MSPs holding current roles, and responsibilities as most pertinent to BEFS work across the existing built and historic environment. We’ve highlighted where titles, and wording, have been lost and gained. Much has been made in the press of the similarity between this Cabinet and the previous. And, whilst there are a high number of familiar faces and a degree of portfolio similarities, as an advocacy organisation we have a few concerns.

Whilst the loss of a Minister for Culture is of significant note, particularly when the sector had seen significant informed engagement and support from recent post holders; having checked the records – the sector has been in this position before. For roughly half the time there has been a Scottish Parliament there has only been one named champion for culture within the Government. (Titles and exact role have adapted and changed over the years.)

However, the work-load for any Cabinet Secretary who has responsibility for Constitution, External Affairs, and Culture could push culture, and within that – heritage, to the periphery. I’m not suggested from a lack of care or interest, but from simple portfolio prioritisation. If we take a positive stance and assume the current Culture Cabinet Secretary is willing and able to support the brief presented without a supporting Minister, this enables us to move on to the thornier question of language.

We find amongst the discards pile the following terms removed from role titles: community wealth, wellbeing economy, fair work, just transition, zero carbon buildings, active travel, circular economy, and green skills. It needs to be stated that the terms missing from titles above can at times be found in the lists of responsibilities. However, the economy does seem to be divorced from wellbeing for the time being. BEFS is hopeful that this demotion of words does not link to a demotion of attention or action – particularly around aspects which have been so tightly woven through the national strategy for the historic environment – Our Past Our Future.

When digging further (and there’s a lot to dig through, so forgive us if there’s anything we’ve missed, or anything amended since we completed our research) we find that there no longer seems to be anyone with responsibility for the Scottish Government Estate Strategy, the long-term labour market strategy, the national towns of culture, or architecture place and built heritage. I’m sure these are just oversights, or perhaps renamed, and will be found nestled in a potentially relevant portfolios in due course.

When considering how the sector demonstrates delivery across (new) portfolios, it is of note that during this time of transition the National Performance Framework is also having a planned ‘reshuffled’. Full consultation can be seen here.

In the NPF changes there is potentially some positive news for the existing built environment as there are new suggested outcomes for Housing, and for Climate Action. These are areas where the sector can demonstrate delivery well – particularly given a reference to ‘high quality’ housing. However, there are also amends to Communities, Fair Work, and the Environment. More detail needs to be examined, and we look forward to working with the sector to ensure important indicators remain.

With the new portfolios in mind, the sector strategy at the core of activity, and refreshed indicators for the National Performance Framework to be finalised, we expect this to be an area of close scrutiny for some time to come. Only time will tell if these changes are more than just semantics.

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