Last Day of the RSAs

Tomorrow is 1 April, and so today marks the day on which the contracts of the regional screen agencies run out. The regional screen agencies will be replaced by Creative England, but not until later this year. Tomorrow is also the day the BFI takes over from the UK Film Council.

The new website for Creative England is here, although there is very little in the way of actual information. The FAQS on the Creative England website are not informative. The first question – ‘Why does there need to be a new structure?’ – does not actually answer the question and provides only an overview of the government’s steps to abolish the UK Film Council. We are promised ‘a simpler, more efficient structure with an expanded remit to support the creative industries across England,’ but this is vague and commits the government to nothing. The rationale is actually given in the consultation document for 2011/12 in paragraphs 3.1.4 and 3.1.5, which emphasise that it is necessary to save money and that the presence of the nine RSAs had resulted in ‘duplication or unnecessary competition.’ The CE consultation document does not state what was duplicated or why this was a bad thing. Nor does it define what is meant by ‘unnecessary competition.’ Neither of these arguments is convincing at the present time because (i) we have not yet received any estimate of how much money will be saved by restructuring the RSAs and the costs of the restructuring the regional bodies have not been made clear, and (ii) the RSAs were organised to represent and support their regions and were responsible for implementing national film policy within geographically defined areas and were not – by definition – national bodies. The RSAs served their regions and had no remit beyond that – they provided the services that were necessary to their region irrespective of what services were provided elsewhere. The RSAs competed with one another to attract productions, and this took the form of developing the range and skills of the workforce, developing the range of facilities, supporting businesses so that they could compete not just at a regional level but also globally, and in many other ways. The introduction of the RSAs was a business-orientated decision (albeit with public funding) with competition at its heart – and in many respects has been successful in making the UK an attractive place for filmmakers to come to. What is ‘unnecessary’ about this? Does the (predominantly Conservative) government not think that competition is a good thing?

It is also clear from paragraph 3.1.8 of the consultation document that Creative England is not intended to be an institution to support the film industry, but will be expanded to cover the other creative industries as well:

… the broader ambition is to grow Creative England beyond the film agenda by developing an over-arching strategy for the development of the creative industries throughout the English regions.

This is a clear statement that, in England, only London will a have dedicated film body, while the rest of the UK will have three creative industries bodies that include film within their remit but are not specifically screen industry bodies. Given the domination of the UK film industry by London and the South East of England, the competitive relationship between the English regions was not with the capital but the other parts of the UK; and as the reform of the RSAs affects only England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be in a much stronger position to out-compete regions institutionally de-nuded regions such as Yorkshire and the East Midlands. I cannot find any assessment of the impact of restructuring on the relationships between the regions, and the relationship between the English regions and the non-English regions has not apparently been addressed.

If CE is to be a single body for all the creative industries, why has the Arts Council for England not been abolished along with the UK Film Council? What is the difference between ‘the arts’ and ‘creative industries’ that they should be treated differently?

For an interview with Sally Joynson, chief executive of Screen Yorkshire, published yesterday in The Yorkshire Post see here. As of today, Screen Yorkshire has made seven of its 21 members of staff redundant, with a further four switching from full-time to part-time. This low staffing level marks a return to the pre-2000 days of the screen commissions that was recognised as unable to effectively serve the film industry by the UK Film Council’s Film in England report (here). Screen Yorkshire will continue to operate at this staffing level for six months until Creative England formally commences operations in October 2011. This leaves a six month period in which the existing bodies must carry on the serve the indstry with reduced staff and funding before the new body becomes operational. The Creative England website states that

2011 will be a year of transition as the Regional Screen Agencies reform into Creative England. In the meantime, it will be ‘business as usual’ for the agencies.

This is a silly thing to say – especially since the business plan for Creative England will not be published until September 2011, and so we will not know its exact structure until that date.

Game Republic (their new site is here) will cease to receive funding from Yorkshire Forward via Screen Yorkshire, and will be funded by games developers and three universities (Sheffield Hallam, Bradford, and Leeds Metropolitan [see here and here]). University funding in the UK is also being cut back by the government as part of its deficit reduction programme, and there was considerable surprise when Leeds Met announced it was going to charge students up to £8,500 per year (here). This cannot be right – public funding for a body to support a media industry is being cut by the DCMS, but the same body will receive support from universities that have had their teaching budgets slashed. Universities obviously have an important economic role to play within a region, but supporting industry bodies whilst increasing tuition fees is not appropriate.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that the decision to reform the publicly funded institutions of the British film industry is wrong; only that you cannot be sure it is the right decision if it is as disorganised and as ill-informed as this. The decisions of the government may be right or wrong – but they are certainly bad decisions. You can access the report of the National Audit Office on the financial management of DCMS here, but it is worth quoting paragraph 2.55:

… the Department [of Culture, Media, and Sport] announced the closure of UK Film Council in July 2010, but it had not performed sufficient analysis of the financial implications of the decision. It announced the transfer of functions four months later, but still had no formal arrangements in place as to which Film Council staff would transfer to other bodies. It had also not calculated the expected costs of closure, although it had decided the transfer of functions would take place on 1 April 2011.

The Guardian (here) reported earlier this month that the wind-down cost of abolishing the UK Film Council is £11.3 million. We do not yet know how much cheaper the new BFI will be.

The Report of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on arts and heritage funding published on 22 March 2011 (here) was also very critical of the decision-making at DCMS, while recognising that there was scope for cost savings at the UK Film Council:

The abolition of the UK Film Council was handled very badly by the Government. We would not expect a decision with such significant implications for the film industry to be sprung on the UK Film Council with little discussion or consultation. It is extremely regrettable that a film-maker of the stature of Tim Bevan has, as a result, decided to take no further part in Government-sponsored initiatives.

If you want to read a really good debate on the government’s film policy and its recent decision-making then you should read the debate in the House of Lords from 7 March 2011 (column 1412 onwards). You can access Lords Hansard here, and by selecting the debates by date (on the left hand panel), then by ‘Debates and Oral Answers’ (below the calendar), and then by ‘Amendment 65A’ from the index you can read the full debate.

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About Nick Redfern

I graduated from the University of Kent in 1998 with a degree in Film Studies and History, and was awarded an MA by the same institution in 2002. I received my Ph.D. from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2006 for a thesis title 'Regionalism and the Cinema in the United Kingdom, 1992 to 2002.' I have taught at Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire. My research interests include regional film cultures and industries in the United Kingdom; cognition and communication in the cinema; anxiety in contemporary Hollywood cinema; cinemetrics; and film style and film form. My work has been published in Entertext, the International Journal of Regional and Local Studies, the New Review of Film and Television Studies, Cyfrwng: Media Wales Journal, and the Journal of British Cinema and Television.

Posted on March 31, 2011, in British Cinema, Film Industry, Film Policy, Film Studies, Regionalism, UK Film Council and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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