Producers slam state of Scottish TV and film sector

BBC show Shetland, starring Douglas Henshall, centre, is filmed in Scotland, but uses crew members from outside the country. Picture: Dave Donaldson
BBC show Shetland, starring Douglas Henshall, centre, is filmed in Scotland, but uses crew members from outside the country. Picture: Dave Donaldson
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LEADING film and television producers have demanded Westminster intervenes to ensure more industry decision-makers are based in Scotland.

A parliamentary inquiry has been told the screen sector north of the Border has been allowed to slip into an “unacceptable” and “disgraceful” condition over the last decade because so little is now being made. The Scottish Affairs Committee has been warned action is urgently needed to overhaul the structure of the BBC because “all the power rests in London”.

Scotland is said to be suffering from a growing talent drain out of the country due to the “dreadfully low” level of output, and is also losing out on work because of the lack of a permanent film studio north of the Border and a reliance on “lift and shift” productions like BBC dramas Shetland and Waterloo Road, made by crews from over the Border.

The Commons inquiry was launched in July, only months after a Holyrood investigation found that the different remits of Scottish Enterprise and Creative Scotland were “acting as a barrier” to the screen sector, which they are jointly responsible for. Both quangos will be quizzed by MPs when the Scottish Affairs Committee meets in Glasgow next month.

Evidence has been submitted to the committee by umbrella group Independent Producers Scotland (IPS), which represents more than 40 different companies, Channel 4 and Tern Productions, one of Scotland’s leading firms.

The IPS submission said: “Screen in Scotland is comparatively under-supported and neglected compared with ­other nations, not to mention regions.

“We’re massively under-­performing, failing to project our culture internationally through the medium of screen, and tragically not participating in the gold-rush that TV drama currently enjoys.

“Output is dreadfully low, quality is often sub-standard and budgets are too tight. We don’t have much to promote. It’s a disgrace.”

David Strachan, managing director of Tern Television, said: “Given the failure of all efforts to date to create a viable and sustainable industry in Scotland, the last solution available is to move commissioning power from London to Scotland.

“In the immediate future, the UK government, in consultation with Holyrood under the new powers granted as a result of the Smith Commission, can require changes to BBC commissioning strategy and practice.”

Channel 4 told the committee that it had “recent first-hand experience” of the problems caused by a lack of studio facilities in Scotland.

And in her evidence, freelance screen industry expert Belle Doyle said: “The experience of working beside other screen agencies from other countries at trade shows and film festival markets has shown how Scotland is missing out and how it could grow. Freelance industry professionals now have to work outside Scotland in order to maintain and develop their careers.”

The last creative industries report, from the Scottish Parliament’s economy committee, criticised the lack of a proper strategy for supporting and growing the TV sector in Scotland and said there was an urgent need to reach a decision on a permanent film studio.

The Scottish Government has since set up an “expert group” for the film industry and announced a £1.75 million budget to help attract productions north of the Border, but has still not identified a favoured site for a national film studio, despite setting up a “delivery group” in May 2013.

Last month the Scottish Government was warned the country faces being left without any of its own filmmakers unless they are given greater financial backing and a proper screen agency. Arabella Page Croft, producer of Sunshine On Leith, told a creative industries summit in Edinburgh that filmmaking in Scotland had been turned into “a mug’s game” because of a lack of industry support.

Ministers want the BBC to set up a new Scottish TV channel and a second radio station.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Edinburgh International TV Festival in August of the Scottish Government’s ambitions for the BBC to move to a “federal structure”, with separate governance boards for each of the home nations sitting under a UK-wide board.

In its submission to the inquiry, Creative Scotland said it was “committed to supporting those working across the arts, screen and creative industries in Scotland as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

David Smith, director of creative Industries at Scottish Enterprise, said: “We are looking forward to attending the evidence session in Glasgow on 2 November and discussing the collaborative work we are continuing to do to support and grow Scotland’s creative industries sector.”