Regulars will know that we have taken issue with Creative Scotland (CS) over its funding of private company Sandstone Press.

Sandstone has been funded for 14 years by CS and predecessor SAC. Of the £0.41m it has received, it has lost £0.34m. It is, by a huge margin, CS’s most-funded publisher.

When CS gave Sandstone £30k on 3 April 2019, at least 50% of the components of the application were ineligible.

(For the avoidance of doubt, we are criticising only the quality of Sandstone’s application and Creative Scotland’s assessment thereof, not the authors or their works.)

Sandstone committed to notifying CS of changes to the facts or context of its application. Instead, it covered up the resignation of its only non-executive director.

Sandstone’s former non-exec claims to be its current non-exec, mirroring the company’s claim on its website until mid-June 2020. She resigned as a director on 31 January 2019 – over 2 months before CS approved Sandstone’s application – and has not been reappointed. She is a member of the Creative Industries Advisory Group, chaired by Scotland’s Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop*.

Not that that stopped CS citing her as mitigation for Sandstone’s huge losses. She would, CS claimed, ensure accountability and governance. Of course, she could not, as she was not a director and not entitled to see management accounts.

(* Fiona Hyslop’s department is aware of the deceit by Sandstone and the CIAG member she chairs, but has not acted. Ms Hyslop is responsible for Creative Scotland (observer on the CIAG) and Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE). CS and HIE are, respectively, Sandstone’s funder and lender. HIE approved a £0.175m lending facility for Sandstone while the company falsely claimed to have its non-exec. HIE actually part-funded the non-exec role until weeks before agreeing its facility.)

Sandstone claims it has a non-executive director. It took this page down on 10 June 2020. Meantime, the judges of several awards had relied upon it.
Jennifer Todd’s resignation as a Sandstone director 31 January 2019.

Sandstone’s FD had already resigned (30 Oct 2018). He apparently sold his shares. ‘Apparently’ because Sandstone told Companies House that no updates were required for its 2019 Confirmation Statement. There were updates: there had been significant changes to its shareholders and their shareholdings.

CS knew that Sandstone was in another cash flow crisis. Publishing Scotland warned CS that a failure to fund Sandstone’s Autumn-2018 application would mean board changes at the company, which ensued. CS should have been aware of them – it was extremely close to the company and contributed to Sandstone’s strategy day prior to assessing the resulting application.

CS considered 40% of application unfundable

CS assessed Sandstone’s reapplication 9/12. That score was a fantasy. The application as submitted merits 2/12. It might scrape 3-4. It needed 7 to be recommended for funding. CS had invested too much in Sandstone for it to be allowed to fail, so it scored the application to ensure it was funded, regardless of its contents and quality.

Of the application’s 10 components:

  • CS excluded 4 as unfundable. One was an ask for cash to promote Sandstone owner-director Moira Forsyth’s profile.
  • 2 more were ineligible. One sought £3k to promote author Daniel Shand. No new title was being published and no marketing plan was submitted, so CS had nothing to assess, but it handed Sandstone £3k regardless.
  • 2 were of questionable eligibility.

leaving just 2/10 eligible.

Despite that, CS rated Sandstone’s application Strong (3/4) for Quality. It merited 1/4 (Limited).

Public benefit

CS did not believe the maths that underpinned Sandstone’s ‘Readership’ numbers. The application also made no mention of author appearances despite much of the ask being for cash to promote authors not titles.

Again, CS ignored the quality of the application and rated it 3/4 for Public Engagement when it merited 1/4 (Limited) at best.

Management

Sandstone’s two directors have overseen the loss of over £0.34m of public money.

Its FD had resigned and no replacement had been appointed. CS told its Funding Panel: ‘A replacement Financial Director will be appointed in Spring 2019.’ No replacement was appointed. CS’s FD then falsely claimed, in response to a complaint, that its assessment made no mention of a successor.

On its website, Sandstone had covered up the resignation of its non-exec director.

Its Companies House filings were inaccurate and misleading regarding its ownership.

CS knew that the company was in a cash crisis.

Despite that, CS rated the application 2/2 for Management on a scale of 0-2. (What would constitute 0?)

Financial Risk

In addition to all of the above, Sandstone’s net assets had reduced by £0.92m (pre CS funding) in its last accounts having made substantial losses in the previous two years even with funding, as CS recognised.

The only mitigation provided was Sandstone’s non-exec, whose resignation the company had covered up (and continued to cover up until June 2020). Even had CS not been aware of her resignation, Companies House records showed it.

Miscategorising the project as Medium Risk by giving it 1/2 on a scale of 0-2 (effectively 67%) put public funds at risk. This was a High Risk project that CS’s Staff Handbook required rating as 0/2, but that would have made it extremely difficult to fund, so CS ignored reality.

Overall

Whereas there might be room for argument between 9/12 and 10/12, there is a massive gulf between 4/12 and 9/12.

CS ignored the application’s myriad failings and the company’s deceit. It funded the company despite the application, not because of it.

Failure to disclose key evidence to the Competition Appeal Tribunal

We challenged CS at the CAT. When CS provided the CAT with its assessment of this application, it redacted the details of Sandstone’s ineligible components, e.g. cash to promote its owner-director. It then published the information unredacted in a reply to our FOI request that it delayed until after the preliminary hearing. The unredacted version tells and entirely different story and reveals the ineligibility of Sandstone’s application.

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman

We have passed the above information to the SPSO and Audit Scotland. Public bodies cannot be allowed to act in this way and must be held to account when they do.