In the week when Creative England opens for business, Sarah Cooper looks at the formation of the new regional organisation, and the challenges that lie ahead.

This week Creative England officially opened for business, with the appointment of seven board members and three senior managers who will head up the body’s three core strands – talent development, location and production services and film culture. The new body will now be responsible for administering DCMS grant in aid funding of £1m and BFI lottery funding of £1m to the regions, with its film culture fund opening on Oct 17 and a talent development fund due to be up and running by November.

But the path to its creation has been anything but smooth with tensions between the regions, issues over transparency, changes over the proposed structure and a complicated legal process involving the transfer of employees from the regional screen agencies to the new body which is not yet complete.

And the end product is not quite the “reconfiguration of the regional screen agencies” that was envisaged back in November 2010 when culture minister Ed Vaizey first announced the new umbrella body. 

Because as it stands, the only regional screen agency to have fully folded into Creative England is Screen West Midlands, whilst Screen Yorkshire, Screen South, EM Media and Northern Film And Media have all opted to not become part of Creative England, instead remaining as private companies. Manchester-based Vision and Media and Bristol based South West Screen are also still operating as private companies, although it is likely that they will become part of Creative England when their existing contracts are up.

So if Creative England is not an amalgamation of the Regional Screen Agencies, what is it? And does it really reflect the “simpler more efficient structure” set out in its remit?  

“Creative England is a new company that is seeking to build on that work, but start afresh,” says Creative England’s new CEO Caroline Norbury, who was chosen from over 60 applicants for the role, although few were surprised by her appointment, given that she has been one of the key players in driving the formation of Creative England from the start.

“I find it tiresome that what we keep doing is having a discussion about the past. Things change, funding streams change and we have to change,” adds Norbury.

So is it just a case of the RSA’s trying desperately to protect their own interests?

Far from it, says Jo Nolan, CEO of Screen South, who had every intention to merge with Creative England until July, when she says the board took the decision to opt out, partly due to Creative England’s decision to change the structure from three separate “hubs” (Creative South, Creative Central and Creative North) into one single operation.  

“I always believed in a single business plan for film in the English regions and ideally we would all be working together. But we have £3/4m worth of projects going on over the next year and it is vitally important that we have a clear line of process. We do not want to undermine Creative England’s position and we intend to work in collaboration with partners who are willing to have the same vision. I think I can count Creative England in that,” says Nolan who will sit down with her board in November to consider Screen South’s future.

Creative England chair John Newbigin puts the change in structure down to lack of funding. “It does not make sense for us to have three dedicated offices, but we plan to have advisory boards in the South, North and Central regions, because it’s important that we are picking up on needs in individual areas.”

Instead, Creative England will have three priority areas – Film Culture (to be headed up by Jay Arnold formely of Screen Yorkshire), Talent development (headed up by Chris Moll of South West Screen) and Location Services (headed up by Kaye Elliot, of Vision and Media). The staff for those teams are currently being recruited via the complicated TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings, Protection of Employment) process which mean that 23 RSA staff have transferred across to Creative England and will apply for those jobs.

Where they will be based has not been confirmed yet, although it looks like they will, for now, continue to operate out of the RSA offices where they currently work. In fact, Newbigin is now calling Creative England a “virtual organisation”.

CE’s strategies may be yet to be confirmed, but there are plans to roll out microbudget scheme iFeatures – which new head of talent development Chris Moll spearheaded at South West Screen - across the regions. “It seems logical where we have a model that has worked well in a specific region to see how that could scale nationally. The Scots, The Welsh, the Irish are all actively support their indigenous talent. The English regions are at a real tipping point and unless there is some coherent strategy we face a real problem,” says Moll.

With the biggest film policy review currently underway, some in the industry are asking why Creative England did not wait to hear the outcome of that, before launching.

“It would have been unhelpful to drag it on any longer,” admits Newbigin, who thinks it makes sense to have the organisation in place before the FPR is published. “The FPR will provide a framework for discussions and I hope it will be very useful to us.”

Meanwhile Norbury says she plans to work “hand in glove with the BFI, with Film London and with the British Film Commission.”

Another issue of contention is the fact that, despite having a remit to support all the creative industries (film, TV and digital) the only funding that Creative England has currently secured is for film, via the DCMS and the BFI, although Norbury is confident that she will secure a £3m digital fund shortly.

Amidst all the complexity, one thing that is clear is that the key players at Creative England have a tough job on their hands in the coming months, to not only ensure the smooth transition of lottery funding and services, but to win over the industry, who up to this point has been sceptical.

As one industry insider sums up: “One of the crucial things is perception. They need to talk to people and to present a coherent front to the international film industry.”

See also Caroline Norbury and John Newbigin Q&A