John Newbigin, Chair of Creative England assesses the first year of operation and notes that the outfit has worked with more than 500 companies so far.
The BFI has confidently titled its three-year strategy ‘Film Forever’ and a recent Oxford Economics report tells us that the film industry is now contributing more than £4bn a year to the British economy.
The bold title and the jaw-dropping statistic are both grounds for optimism, but we all know the film industry is as volatile as the career of any filmmaker – you’re only as good as your last movie. Continuing success and, more importantly, continuing growth depends on a constantly shifting and finely balanced mix of skills, resources, money, talent, policy – and a dash of luck. It means getting public policy, private investment, creative talent – and confidence - all working in harmony. Just twelve months after its launch I think Creative England is already making a big contribution to getting that balance right.
By combing the great local networks and resources we inherited from the regional screen agencies with our national reach and impact we’re able to open up new routes for creative talent to achieve its full potential – whether that’s through our sell-out networking events for industry professionals, the rolling out of ifeatures2 (our nation-wide development programme for low-budget features), the launch of England’s first integrated national database for locations, crews and facilities, or our joint development initiatives giving smaller production companies the chance to get network commissions from BBC and Channel 4.
We don’t just offer those opportunities; we help individuals and companies make the most of them. Far too many creative businesses are both under-capitalised and under-skilled. We recognise that talent development and business development have to go hand in hand to create a successful, sustainable enterprise. That’s why we offer what we call a “money plus” service that combines mentoring and business support with access to finance and access to markets. Our view is that in the networked economy every micro-business can think of itself as a global business, wherever it’s located, providing it takes the time to build the knowledge and relationships it need for success. And in out first year we’ve worked in that way with more than 500 companies across all the regions of England.
The extensive consultation we undertook before we launched told us that access to affordable finance is still one of the biggest issues which creative businesses face, and it’s a particularly acute issue outside London; it’s more difficult to get capital if you’re not in the capital. So, along with other investment funds, we have secured £5m from the government’s Regional Growth Fund to support creative business and it’s encouraging, if not very surprising, that the first round of our main development fund has been over-subscribed six times over. There’s no shortage of ambitious and hungry talent out there, eager to generate jobs and growth; we need to mobilise it! We’re also contributing to more durable solutions to the problem of access to finance by leading thinking on the issue for the government’s Creative Industries Council.
And we’re contributing to wider strategic thinking about the role of the creative sector in re-energising Britain’s economy. As well as helping creative people and companies outside the charmed circle of London raise their finance, we try to help them raise their creative and commercial ambition. Britain’s film, TV, games and digital media companies are already amongst the world leaders in their fields but their impact now extends well beyond the entertainment sector. Technology companies working in healthcare, hi-end engineering, the car industry and bio-sciences are increasingly recognising that they can benefit hugely from the ideas, creativity and skills of the screen industries – which puts the creative industries right at the centre of a wider skills-led and ideas-led recovery for the economy.
As we go into our second year, our strategy is to maximise our reach and impact by maximising our partnerships. We’re absolutely committed to helping the BFI achieve the ambitions it’s set out for the future of film. We work with government, with local authorities, with investors and technology businesses, with broadcasters, with the studios, with universities and think tanks, with partner organisations in other parts of the UK and around the world and – of course – with hundreds of brilliantly talented people in every part of the country to help them make Creative England a reality.