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Scottish screen unit proposals inadequate and cumbersome, MSPs say

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

A NEW agency must be set up to boost film and TV production work in Scotland, MSPs have insisted.

A report from the committee said there was “no guarantee” that Scottish Government-backed plans to establish a screen unit within the existing arts body Creative Scotland would deliver the transformation required.

The plans for a screen unit set out an “inadequate role” for the sector, with MSPs also claiming the “cumbersome” arrangements are “overly bureaucratic” and will not allow the “dynamic decision-making” needed in a fast-moving industry.

After getting the backing of Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop, proposals to create a dedicated new screen unit within Creative Scotland were published in December 2017.

However, members of the Scottish Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, who have been considering the plans, have called for a radical rethink.

MSPs have taken the unusual step of publishing an interim report, calling on ministers to instead set up an independent screen agency – which they say could help attract attract major productions to Scotland.

Although work to set up the screen unit is already under way, the committee recommended plans must now be drawn up “for how it can be transformed into a standalone agency”.

In their interim report, MSPs said: “We want a vibrant screen sector in Scotland. That requires a standalone agency which is not encumbered by bureaucracy and is industry led.

“An autonomous Screen Scotland will help nurture, develop and support indigenous talent, deliver more studio capacity, attract major productions and represent Scotland to the rest of the world.”

It comes as the development of on-demand TV and movies has transformed the entertainment sector – with Netflix along planning to spend between seven and eight billion US dollars on commissioning new content this year alone.

While filming of TV drama Outlander has brought 400 million dollars of investment to Scotland, the committee said this was “an exception” and the country had “failed to invest in studio space and capitalise on these new opportunities”.

After hearing from leading figures in the industry, the committee said: “It has become clear to us that the proposal for the screen unit will not deliver the step-change in support that the screen sector in Scotland needs to be sustainable and successful in a fast-changing global market.”

Setting up a screen unit in Creative Scotland “is a public sector – and not a screen sector – solution”, the MSPs added.

“It will bring the key public-sector agencies around a table with no guarantee this will lead either to agreement among these players or the transformation required. The screen unit proposal foresees an inadequate role for the sector itself and insufficient discretion and autonomy within the governance arrangements to allow dynamic decision-making. We are unconvinced it embodies the vision or demonstrates the strategy needed to guarantee success.

“In particular, we believe the cumbersome governance arrangements, designed to address the problem of public sector fragmentation, are overly bureaucratic. This will constrain, not promote, change in the sector. We are not convinced that the screen unit will be sufficiently fleet of foot in decision-making.”

While legislation at Holyrood would be needed to set up a standalone screen agency, the committee said it would publish further “evidence” for this in a full report in June.

“By publishing this report now we would like to signal that the Scottish Government should establish a stand alone screen agency for Scotland,” MSPs added.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is an exciting time for the screen industry in Scotland. Production spend has increased by 200% since 2007 and Scotland is securing major productions and attracting organisations such as the National Film and Television School.

“There are many opportunities ahead and the public sector, through the screen unit, is committed to helping the industry seize them. This is why we doubled screen funding this year to £20 million. Along with this significant investment, the screen unit will better align public-sector support, help skills development, increase inward investment and support business growth.

“We agree with the committee that working alongside the industry is crucial. The Screen Sector Leadership Group (SSLG) has been consulted throughout the development of the screen unit and, as well as industry expertise leading the screen unit itself through the newly-created executive director post, there is industry representation on the Screen Committee, and recruitment under way for increased screen expertise on the Creative Scotland board.”