The UK government has been urged by a group of MPs to set up an emergency insurance fund that will guarantee to cover potential Covid-19 losses to enable independent film and TV production to resume.
The call comes from a select committee appointed to scrutinise the workings of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). It has published a highly critical report into the impact of coronavirus on culture and the creative industries which said: “Government must address the urgent need for the UK’s cultural industries to be covered by adequate insurance. Without it, efforts to resume filming, touring and live performance are doomed to failure.
“Alongside working with the insurance industry to introduce a long-term pandemic reinsurance scheme, the DCMS should establish an emergency fund to guarantee coverage for TV and film productions, stage productions, concerts and tours interrupted or abandoned due to Covid-19.”
TV and film producers organisation Pact provided written evidence to the report. It said: ”The one thing stopping all UK production from returning is the lack of liability cover”. In response, the report said: “Government set up a short-term fund guaranteeing to cover potential Covid-19 losses with industry also contributing to the loss were it to occur”.
The topic of insurance has caused concern for many in the independent sector. At the end of May, a proposal for the UK government for a Covid-19 film and TV insurance guarantee was submitted to the DCMS by a group including Pact, the UK’s major broadcasters, Directors UK and insurance and legal experts. In June, Adrian Wooton, chief executive of the British Film Commission said “the highest echelons of government are listening” to the proposal.
Talent drain; freelance support
The report also suggested the UK creative sector faces a talent drain due to job insecurity. “There are already significant skills gaps and shortages across film and TV, for example production accountants, and these risk the continued growth of sector,” said written evidence supplied by the British Film Institute (BFI). “With job insecurity highlighted by recent events, these shortages will become even more pronounced and widespread and potential new entrants to the sector will be put off. There is going to be a loss of labour capacity within the industry which could impact its ability to recover post Covid-19.”
Covid-19 could also make the UK’s “highly exclusive” cultural sector even less diverse, according to the committee. The report quoted Dave O’Brien, a chancellor’s fellow in cultural and creative industries at the University of Edinburgh. “Covid-19 will unquestionably make these issues worse,” he said. ”There will be fewer cultural organisations, whether in the arts, in media, music, film and TV, publishing, or in museums; There will be fewer job and project opportunities; Competition for those opportunities will intensify; the winners will be those who already have economic, social, and cultural resources.”
The report also called for further financial support for those in the self-employed and freelance workforce who had been excluded from government financial aid. It said: ”From October 2020 at the latest, the Government should introduce flexible, sector specific versions of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the Self Employed Income Support Scheme guaranteed for the creative industries until their work and income returns to sustainable levels… Support for the self- employed, in particular, should be urgently reviewed and amended so that it covers people who have been excluded to date.”
The report heavily criticised the government for being ‘too slow’ to respond to the needs of the culture sector.
“The failure of the government to act quickly has jeopardized the future of institutions that are part of our national life and the livelihoods of those who work for them,” said committee chair Julian Knight MP. “Our report points to a department that has been treated as a ‘Cinderella’ by government when it comes to spending, despite the enormous contribution that the DCMS sectors make to the economy and job creation. We can see the damaging effect that has had on the robustness and ability of these areas to recover from the Covid crisis. The £1.57 bn support is welcome but for many help has come too late.”
The report recommended the establishment of a ’‘Creators Council’ to ”boost confidence across the sector and ensure its views are represented at a time when many of the creative industries workforce are struggling to stay in the sector”.
The DCMS is one of the smallest government departments by budget and staffing and has seen one of the highest turn-over of secretaries of state, with Oliver Dowden the ninth in the role since May 2010.