Culture minister Ed Vaizey reiterates government’s opposition to Creative Europe budget increase during House of Lords EU sub-committee.

Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) today reiterated the UK government’s opposition to the proposed budget increase within Creative Europe, the European Commission’s successor programme to the existing Culture, MEDIA and MEDIA Mundus programmes that are set to end in December 2013.

Vaizey said: “The government opposes this budget increase because in times of great economic austerity, when the EU should be focused on growth and looking hard at the money it spends and reducing its budget, it would be wrong for there to be an increase in the budget of the culture programme. The government’s position is that the EU should be freezing its budget for the next six financial years.”

Vaizey was speaking during a House of Lords EU sub-committee, which will next week hear from UK MEDIA Desk head Agnieszka Moody and other industry experts on the topic.

Creative Europe proposes a 37% budget increase to that of its three predecessor programmes with a total budget of €1.8 billion for the period 2014 to 2020.

Following a public consultation seeking views on the Creative Europe programme Vaizey said his department had to date only received “half a dozen” responses, but that he would be “concerned” if that number remained at six. He described them as “generally supportive of the proposal.”

Regarding Creative Europe’s proposed financial facility in the form of a debt instrument operating alongside European financial institutions to provide loans for SMEs, Vaizey said: “We oppose the facility in principle because we are not sure it will be effective.”

Vaizey expressed concern that other sectors would demand a similar facility and that “banks and businesses that are already lending in this sector will simply see this is a new opportunity to get guaranteed finance and fill the space,” to the detriment of new businesses.

In response to a question from Lord Skidelsky about whether the proposed budget increase and financial facility could be a means of generating growth in the creative sectors, Vaizey highlighted the success of initiatives such as the EIS and SEIS schemes as examples of currently successful initiatives for generating investment in the creative sectors.

In response to a committee question about how the government intends to implement the Film Policy Review’s recommendations “for the UK to engage the European dimension”, Vaizey said: “We want to continue to engage our European colleagues through the MEDIA programme, whose objectives we support.”

Lord Foulkes asked Vaizey whether he meets his counterpart European culture ministers to which Vaizey said he had only briefly met a handful of European culture ministers.

“How can you follow up the European dimensions recommended by Chris Smith if you don’t meet regularly with your counterparts and talk about what is being suggested by the European Commission?” continued Foulkes. Vaizey acknowledged that he should meet with them more frequently, starting with a culture summit hosted by the Scottish Government during the Edinburgh festival.

Foulkes also suggested that as a result of The Artist’s success the UK film industry should consider collaborating more frequently with France.  

Vaizey said Foulkes had given him “food for thought” and that he will consider how he can be “more proactive about using the likes of BAFTA or the London Film Festival to invite my fellow European culture ministers to come to the UK and engage with UK culture.”

Lady Scott asked whether there was a role for the UK government or EU states to play in assisting distributors ease a perceived “stranglehold” on the distribution sector by US studios, to which Vaizey responded: “This is a massive issue. This is the logjam in the future success of the UK film industry,” and went on to highlight Lord Smith’s proposals for greater recoupment among UK independent distributors, producers and directors.

Ann Branch, head of unit, directorate-general for education and culture, European Commission, Agnieszka Moody, director of MEDIA Desk UK and Cristoph Jankowski, European information manager at Visiting Arts (the UK Cultural Contact Point) will give evidence to the committee on March 22.

According to a written brief by the EU sub committee in 2011 the UK received the largest funding allocation (€5.7million) of any member state under the Culture programme and in 2010 it also received €8.7 million under the MEDIA programme. It also stated that domestic funding for the creative industries in the UK has fallen by 6.9% during the current financial year and is projected to fall by a total of 15% between 2011 and 2015.