Humza Yousaf has said he understands the frustration of the arts sector after his government's decision to re-impose a £6.6 million cut to Creative Scotland’s budget.

The First Minister insisted the 10% drop would be reinstated next year, but, he added, for this year, the culture body would need to use the money in their reserves.

The SNP leader was speaking as over 100 campaigners gathered outside the Scottish Parliament to protest the cuts.

More than 13,200 people have now signed a petition organised by the Campaign For The Arts charity calling for the government to rethink the saving.

READ MORE: Angus Robertson defends £6.6m Creative Scotland funding cut

The government first raised the prospect of a drop in Creative Scotland’s funding last December when they set out their draft budget for 2023/24.

But in February, following a campaign from the sector and the public, the then finance secretary John Swinney restored the funding, saying arts and culture were important to the “wellbeing of our society.”

However, last week, Creative Scotland said the money had “not been included in the Autumn Budget Revisions, and the cut is being reinstated".

The body — which provides funding for a number of arts organisations as well as for a number of individual projects — will now use its National Lottery funding reserves to plug the gap.

Asked about the decision while speaking to journalists during a by-election campaign stop in Blantyre, the First Minister said the government was facing “extreme financial constraints".

“Our public finances are the most strained in the devolution era and that is not down to decisions we've made. It's down to the disaster of the mini-budget, sky-high inflation, which has impacted our budget.

“It's impacted the Welsh Government's budget, impacted the UK government's budget, and the Northern Irish government budget too. So we are facing extreme financial constraints in relation to our budget.”

He said ministers had been forced to make “really difficult decisions".

“But what's important in relation to this specific issue is that any funded organisation that was due to receive funding, that £6.6 million funding, will still receive that funding.

“What we've simply asked Creative Scotland to do is to use their reserves, that £17 million of National Lottery reserve that they have, to use a portion of that reserve.

“And what I've made abundantly clear, and Angus Robertson has made it clear, is that subject to Parliament approving the 2024/2025 budget, we will make sure that money is restored in full.

“So no funded organisation is going to be out of pocket. They're going to continue to receive the funding they expected to see this financial year.

“The difference is that they will get that money from a reserve, a portion of a reserve that's coming from Creative Scotland as opposed to from the Scottish Government.”

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It was put to him that there was a lack of trust from the sector given that ministers had initially restored the £6.6 million before cutting it again. The Herald asked how they would be able to take the commitment to restore the funding at face value. 

Mr Yousaf said: “I understand the frustration and I completely understand that and hear the voices who have spoken out about this particular saving.

“What I would say is that ultimately, of course, we did not know when we set a budget that there would be the disaster of the UK government's mini-budget.

“We did not know the impact that would have on sky-high inflation and the impact that would have on our budget.

“We've had to find savings from health, from education, from culture, from right across Scottish Government. We've had to find savings.

“We're trying to do that in a way that minimises the impact. That's why any organization that was due to receive funding from that £6.6 million will still receive that.

“The source of the funding will change it is not going to be able to come from the Scottish Government this year regrettably, but it will come from Creative Scotland's reserves, £17 million of reserves, of which we're asking them to use £6.6 million and we will restore that subject to Parliament, of course approving the 2024 budget.”

Jack Gamble, from the Campaign For The Arts, criticised Mr Yousaf for trying to shift the blame for the Scottish Government's funding cut.

"The First Minister blames the Westminster mini-budget and rising inflation for this sudden U-turn, but the Scottish Government pledged to maintain funding for Creative Scotland in February, five months after the mini-budget, and since then inflation has actually come down.

"We all accept that there are huge pressures right now - that’s exactly why the sector needs backing, and why Creative Scotland has sensibly been building reserves, including for a ‘transition fund’ to save companies from a financial cliff-edge if they lose regular funding.

"Even if we can trust that the Scottish Government will reverse this cut next year, they will still have made a significant, £6.6m dent in Creative Scotland's reserves.

"Ministers say that they value the arts, but rather than investing in them and their social and economic potential, they are choosing to implement sudden funding cuts that will make Creative Scotland and the sector more precarious.

"It’s not too late for the Scottish Government to do the right thing, keep to their word, and restore this funding in the Autumn Budget Revision."