Brian Ferguson: Scots studio saga goes on and on

There has been pressure on Fiona Hyslop to deliver a Scottish film studio. Picture: Jayne Wright
There has been pressure on Fiona Hyslop to deliver a Scottish film studio. Picture: Jayne Wright
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IT HAS taken me more than a decade to get inside the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament building.

I am sure few people believe that Scotland’s failure to build a full-time film studio is anything approaching the national disgrace that the Holyrood building project quickly became.

Yet the studio saga has dragged on for an incredible 80 years and still has no end in sight. The latest instalment unfolded in that debating chamber last week when culture secretary Fiona Hyslop came under fire over the lack of progress since she appeared before an inquiry into the industry in February.

Ms Hyslop was under pressure – nearly two years on from the creation of a “film studio delivery group” which had produced nothing except endless speculation.

Two rabbits were pulled from a hat. The first was the announcement of an additional £3 million for the screen sector, the first serious pledge since leading film-makers started campaigning for a better financial deal in the summer of 2013.

Then there was the revelation that a new private-sector studio proposal had come forward and was being actively pursued, after all previous bids – including the main industry-backed one in Glasgow – were ruled unviable.

It must have seemed a good idea for Scottish Enterprise to back up Ms Hyslop’s claims with an announcement that it was working towards “completing due diligence and agreeing heads of terms” on the new studio proposal within just eight weeks. But seven months later there is still a deafening silence from the quango and Creative Scotland, with which it shares responsibility for the film industry. An update seemed certain in June at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

But Ms Hyslop merely held out the promise of further financial backing for an industry which, the inquiry was told repeatedly, has slipped way behind rivals like Wales and Northern Ireland. A figure of £1.75m was finally put on that new incentive fund by Ms Hysop last week, in another announcement timed to coincide with her appearance before MSPs. The trick worked again and she seemed to get a relatively easy ride, despite the lack of progress on the studio, and the failure of Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise to even agree a “memorandum of understanding” several months after a damning inquiry verdict on their respective track records.

The forthcoming release of two major films shot in Scotland – Macbeth and Sunset Song – may buy the quangos and the government a bit more time.

But until there is a firm commitment to a studio, and clarity over its location and a construction timetable, Scotland’s ambitious as a serious industry player will be left firmly on the starting blocks.