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Source: Adobestock composite

Shooting in the UK

After 14 years of Conservative government, the UK will have its say on July 4 in the general election, with polls suggesting a landslide victory for the Labour party. Whatever the outcome, the UK film industry’s core guilds and organisations have aired clear views on what they hope to see from the next government.

Calls include sturdier support for the largely freelance workforce, such as with the appointment of a government freelance commissioner; a reduction of VAT on cinema tickets in line with other European countries; and enhanced protection for creatives in the age of artificial intelligence (AI).

The Covid pandemic and the 2023 production shrivel following the Hollywood strikes and TV commissioning downturn have all highlighted the precariousness of working conditions for the film and TV industry’s largely freelance workforce, with both the financial and mental health impact of paramount concern for organisations such as the Production Guild of Great Britain (PGGB) and the Film and TV Charity.

While pleased with the introduction of the Independent Film Tax Credit (IFTC) and the boost it will give to domestic production, PGGB CEO Lyndsay Duthie said, “For the next government a question has to be how we support freelancers better – they are key to the success of the world-class content the UK is known for and we need to retain them.” 

Marcus Ryder

Source: Film and TV Charity

Marcus Ryder

Marcus Ryder, CEO of the Film and TV Charity, noted: “As we are about to launch the latest Looking Glass Survey to assess the mental health of the film, TV and cinema industry, we want any incoming government to support our work to make the UK the best place in the world to create content. This means working with us to address the disproportionate levels of poor mental health experienced by film and TV workers compared to the rest of the UK workforce.

“It also means addressing the problems associated with freelance work and short-term contracts in economic downturns that disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable and those from underrepresented groups.

“Policies that we would like to see an incoming government implement include working with Ofcom to explore ways to incorporate best mental health practices into the license agreements of public service broadcasters, and tying them into any new and additional tax relief programmes for film and high-end TV productions. We would also want policies that explore tax codes for freelancers in the creative environment to support them through periods of unemployment.”

Creative UK, a national membership body for the cultural and creative industries, has penned its own manifesto of policies it hopes the next government will enact, including a call for the appointment of a new government freelancing commissioner, who would work with unions to advocate for freelancers, alongside a review of ministerial responsibilities for the self-employed.

Bectu, the UK creative industries union, has published a statement on its website backing the Labour party’s manifesto: “Bectu welcomes the Labour Party’s commitment to backing our brilliant creative industries. Covid-19, post-Brexit touring restrictions, the cost-of-living-crisis and the huge impact of last year’s US industrial disputes have shown that the sector is crying out for a strategy and the workforce badly needs a government that will put its money where its mouth is.”

Philippa Childs

Source: Bectu

Philippa Childs

“Any party with ambitions to govern needs to recognise the interdependent nature of the creative industries and accordingly commit to investment across the whole of the sector,” said Philippa Childs, head of Bectu. “This will require balancing efforts to encourage inward investment whilst ensuring that UK talent, stories and independent production can thrive.

“It’s critical that careers in the sector are open to all and we welcome the commitment to removing barriers to access for underrepresented groups and voices. To bring this about – and to retain diverse talent – will require structural change, sustained funding and recognition of the economic and social power of the sector.

“Education settings, outreach projects and community groups will all have a part to play, as will the end of chronically low pay in much of the sector. We also welcome Labour’s commitment to take action on late payments for the self-employed.”

John McVay, CEO of producers’ alliance Pact, highlights maintaining the UK’s competitive screen sector tax credits as of critical importance, and would like the research and development (R&D) tax credits opened up to the creative sectors.

Ofcom, the government-approved regulatory and competition authority for broadcasters, is set to soon undertake a public service media review. “Whoever the next government is should really make sure we have a healthy, thriving and vibrant PSB [public service broadcasting] system that reflects different voices of people across the UK, and makes sure benefits are felt from people across the UK,” said McVay. 

Pact also wants to see a new form of trade expo support for creative industry SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises). “Growth in the UK is pretty flat,” noted McVay. “All our growth, particularly in our sector, comes from international. We could do more, we could do better. Currently our small companies find it very difficult to get to all these new markets.”

A further credit that has been backed by the Film Distributors’ Association (FDA) is a targeted expenditure credit for distribution and marketing costs that would work in tandem with the IFTC.

”This would be a very effective government win with a low cost/high return intervention that would encourage more independent films to release wider and therein land more successfully with broader, more diverse audiences. As such, it would benefit all parts of the film ecology,” said Andy Leyshon, FDA chief exeuctive. “Distributors would be encouraged to take bigger swings with their releases, exhibitors would see greater ticket and concession sales, and producers would have a better chance of recouping on their investments.”

Cinema support

Phil Clapp, chief executive at the UK Cinema Association, wants more forgiving conditions for cinemas amid a tough economic climate for UK high streets. “We’d like any new government to recognise the unique contribution that all cinemas make to the cultural, social and economic life of communities across the UK, providing affordable big-screen entertainment to people of all ages and backgrounds,” said Clapp.

“That means support for the sector as it continues its recovery, understanding of the significantly increased costs that UK cinemas still face on utilities and staffing, and a fresh look (as is promised by a number of the major parties) at the currently iniquitous business rates regime, which disadvantages ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses such as cinemas which bring life and vibrancy to the high street. And support for the sector as it seeks to make its venues more sustainable and energy efficient.

“We recognise that the public purse strings will be tight for whoever comes in post the election, but would nevertheless renew our call for consideration of a reduced level of VAT on cinema tickets and indeed tickets to other cultural venues, as is the norm across Europe, sending a strong signal as to the value of culture and helping remove any barriers of cost.”

Apprenticeships and AI

”We call on whoever forms the next government to enshrine protections for writers on fair pay and fair treatment, ensure that the creative sector is sustainable and, in a world that is being transformed by AI, introduce robust protections on copyright,” said Writers’ Guild of Great Britain general secretary Ellie Peers.

WGGB has launched a manifesto calling for greater restrictions on free work and for the formation of a new body to monitor and regulate AI expansion.

The UK Screen Alliance, which represents the VFX and animation sectors, has also crafted a manifesto, imploring the next government to enact the VFX tax credit uplift proposed by the Conservative government in the spring budget; remove the generative AI exclusion from the VFX tax credit proposal; an exclusion for VFX costs from the 80% cap on eligible expenditure in the new IFTC; and reform of the apprenticeship levy to cover employers’ running costs for providing placements and to fund other forms of training.