Screen talks to Creative England CEO Caroline Norbury and chair John Newbigin about the complex process behind the formation of the new regional body and their plans for the future of the organisation.
Caroline Norbury was appointed to the role of CEO of Creative England last month. She previously held the post of CEO of Bristol based Regional Screen Agency (RSA) South West Screen, before becoming Creative Englands “establishment director” in June, helping to drive through the launch of the new body.
Before becoming the chair of Creative England, John Newbigin was chair of former regional body Screen England. His previous posts include head of corporate relations at Channel 4.
Has the process of setting up Creative England been harder than you expected?
CN: This will be my third or fourth start-up company. Yes it’s a bit rocky to start with but given the money and the resources we have had to do it, I’m pleased with the way it’s gone. There is a lot of pressure on us to be all singing and dancing straight away. When the Film Council set up they had a core team setting up for a year. I’ve been trying to persuade my colleagues for five years that it would be in our interest to be one organisation. And now we will have a single voice in government.
JN: The handover has gone extremely well. For all the ups and downs there has been a great deal of good will from the RSAs [regional screen agencies], recognising that the really important thing is serving the industry.
What is the key message you want to get across about Creative England?
CN: We are open for business.
JN: That Creative England is a very good outcome. To have a single agency which can speak for the regions but has a national focus is a very good place to be.
You carried out a public consultation earlier this year regarding Creative England. What did you learn from that?
CN: We had just under 500 responses. The main thing to come out of it was that people wanted the fantastic service in the regions to continue. But they understood that there is less money and that we have to do it smarter.
In culture minister Ed Vaizey’s speech in November 2010 about the future of the UK film industry he talked about the Regional Screen Agencies reconfiguring themselves as a single national body. Is that what Creative England is?
Caroline Norbury: Creative England is not an amalgamation of the Regional Screen Agencies (RSAs), it is a new company that is seeking to build on that work, but start afresh. It is about supporting independent creative businesses and the talent that feeds them in every part of England.
Why are some of the RSAs continuing to operate as private companies and sit outside of the Creative England structure?
CN: They are all doing something different in the future. I don’t know what some of them are doing. When the RSAs were set up by the UKFC, they were set up as independent companies. The reason the transition has been difficult is because there is no one in charge. You have to get there through a process of agreement. What the RSAs do in the future is really up to them.
Do you think it sends out a confusing message to the industry?
JN: It might look confusing at the moment, but in time it will settle down and become clearer. The important thing is that the handover has been incredibly well managed. And we want to make it clear that for people applying for lottery funding and grant in aid funding that was coming through the RSAs, that now comes through Creative England.
What will Creative England bring that the RSA’s couldn’t?
CN: The RSAs didn’t have a single voice into government. We can be that one voice. The agencies had a lot of strengths, but equally we had some weaknesses. The postcode lottery was a nightmare and region to region competition does nothing for the country as a whole.
Originally Creative England was going to be made up of three “hubs” – Creative North, Creative Central and Creative South. Now it is just one single entity. Why the change of heart?
John Newbigin: Because funding is so tight, we realised that to have three dedicated offices would not make sense. We will now run it as a virtual organisation with advisory boards in the north, central and south regions. We have a variety of offices that we have access to, including the old screen agencies that we can have hot desks in.
As well as having a national board it makes sense to have groups of industry people who are able to think about needs on a macro regional basis.
Will some of the staff from the RSAs move over to work for Creative England?
CN: 23 members of RSA staff, who were working specifically on film [because the only money on the table for Creative England at this point is for film] will transfer their employment under TUPE [The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations. All RSA staff can apply for those jobs as well though.
Those TUPE staff that have been transferred can still work from their offices and will have the same phone numbers they had before, but different email addresses. They will then take on roles in the sectorial teams – the film culture team, the talent development team and production services and location team.
How did you choose your board members?
JN: We advertised. We had 85 applications, all of which were very strong. It was always my intention to appoint more or less half the board [7 board members have been appointed, with another 5 appointments to make], let that settle down and see where the gaps are. The nice thing is, everybody on the board is really enthusiastic.
John, why was Caroline the best person for the role of CEO of Creative England?
JN: We had over 60 applications from around the world, and very strong candidates. What Caroline has got is an unusual combination of practical working experience as a TV producer as well as an understanding of the political complexities of public funding. From my perspective it’s an advantage because she understands the political inheritance. It means there is a continuity.
Your remit is to cover the film, television and digital industries, but so far you only have money for film. Are you hoping to get more funding?
JN: We are actively seeking other funding. There are some old RSA contracts which we are very optimistic can be transferred across to CE. Part of the function is that we raise the finance to fulfil our remit.
CN: We are close to securing a £3m digital media fund.
Do you have any specific strategies in place at the moment?
CN: In terms of location and production services we need boots on the ground where the industry is. With film culture it is more about being public facing, so that needs to be structured in a different way. It’s about broadening the range of things that are available to audiences and doing it in imaginative ways. And the need for the diverse cultural voice to be heard.
We are also going to launch a new England-wide microbudget scheme [based on the iFeatures scheme currently up and running at South West Screen].
Would it not have made more sense to wait until the Film Policy Review before launching Creative England?
JN: It would have been unhelpful for us to drag it on any longer. I think it is good to have the organisation in place before the FPR is published. I would like to think that what comes out of the FPR around changes in digital distribution, exhibition, social and cultural change will be useful for us.
How closely will you work with the BFI?
CN: How it fits in with the BFI is all in discussion. But we will work hand in glove with the BFI,and also with Film London and the British Film Commission.
Will there be an office in London?
CN: Not at the moment. I will be on a train for most of the time, but I will probably spend two days in London, a day in Bristol, a day in Manchester and a day somewhere else.
See also: Creative England, ready to start afresh