More Scots cultural venues could be at risk of takeovers by multinational firms and developers, including those with links to tax havens as the “economic turmoil” in the UK takes its toll, politicians and campaigners have warned.

Analysis by The Herald, as part of our Who Owns Urban Scotland? series, found that the majority of cultural assets in Scotland’s cities remain in the hands of local councils and charities.

But others, including recognisable venues such as the Edinburgh Playhouse, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, and Glasgow’s King’s Theatre, are owned by global companies with links to offshore tax havens.

With the spectre of venue closures hanging over the creative industries, experts say that the trend of arts, theatre and music hubs being taken over by major investment firms – including some based offshore – “is likely to deepen over the next year or two of economic turmoil”.

Economic downturns such as the one currently being experienced in the UK “very often give rise to consolidation as large players sweep up the liquidated assets at low prices”, one argued.

The financial crisis in the arts industry has led to a series of doom-laden predictions about its prospects over the winter.

Creative Scotland – the Scottish Government body responsible for culture and the creative industries – claimed that up to a quarter of the 121 organisations it funds could be “insolvent in the next few months”.

Its chief executive argued that the current crisis is particularly bad for groups who have to spend a large percentage of their earnings on building costs, such as energy and rent.

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The Edinburgh Filmhouse has already been forced to close suddenly in October — with more than 100 staff laid off — after the charity that ran it went into administration.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival and Aberdeen’s Belmont Filmhouse also shut their doors as a result of the Centre for the Moving Image going out of business.

A petition is urging the Scottish Government and Edinburgh City Council to step in to save the Filmhouse. But there is also likely to be keen interest from private developers.

The administrators have said they expect a “high level of demand” for the venue which they describe as an “outstanding development opportunity within Edinburgh’s financial and cultural quarter”. Savills, the company tasked with selling the Filmhouse building, noted it is  “suitable for a range of uses, subject to achieving the relevant consents”.

HeraldScotland: Edinburgh Filmhouse was forced to close in October after its owner charity went into administrationEdinburgh Filmhouse was forced to close in October after its owner charity went into administration (Image: Newsquest)

The Modern Two art gallery in Edinburgh, part of the National Galleries of Scotland, is also closed to the public until the end of the year due to financial difficulties.

The UK’s biggest cinema chain, Cineworld, filed for bankruptcy in the US in September, prompting concerns about the future of its Scottish sites.

Cineworld owns theatres including Edinburgh’s Cameo and Europe’s tallest cinema on Renfield Street in Glasgow.

Glasgow’s Pavilion Theatre went up for sale in September, with Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) currently considered the “frontrunner” to buy the venue.

ATG is the same firm, with links to Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands, which currently operates the Edinburgh Playhouse and Glasgow’s Kings and Theatre Royal.

Glasgow Labour MSP said he “completely opposed” ATG’s takeover of The Pavilion and would do his “best to secure its future in local ownership”.

He echoed the view that the UK’s “imminent recession” will “probably see further venues put up for sale”.

He added: “If that does happen, we cannot be in a situation where the purchasers are based in tax havens, leaving our economy susceptible to the whims of private enterprise.”

The threat of more Scots culture being snapped up by tax haven-linked private equity companies and pension funds has led some to question the Scottish Government’s commitment to building a so-called “wellbeing economy”.

Described by the SNP government as being “at the heart of our national purpose as a country”, their agenda is meant to ensure that economic decisions deliver improved health and wellbeing by “putting people and the environment at the heart of the economy”.

Philip Whyte, the Scotland director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, argued that some “high-profile successes and international recognition” in the arts sector have masked the fact that “countless” Scottish venues have “gone bust and closed down in recent years”.

He added: “Closures don’t just harm our cultural success and reputation but also bring severe economic consequences for local communities.”

“The Scottish Government has a stated ambition to create a ‘wellbeing economy’, built on inclusive growth and community wealth building. That needs to see wealth not just being created in our local economies but retained there, too.”

The Scottish Government has stressed it does not have powers to prevent tax haven firms buying up land and property in the country.

However, it has been criticised for continually underfunding the creative sector.

Creative Scotland has seen its core budget reduced by £13.1 million in the last 10 years. Spending on culture is expected to decline further next year, Holyrood’s culture secretary, Angus Robertson, has said.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “We have been engaging, directly and through key business organisations, to best understand their needs and will continue to do so.”

Who Owns Urban Scotland is an investigation carried out by The Ferret for The Herald looking into the firms controlling Scotland’s towns and cities. Support our journalism by becoming a member for £5 a month at

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