Fiona Hyslop defends Scots film studio delay

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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THE Scottish Government has insisted it is still in talks to create a national film studio - after a fresh wave of criticism over a lack of progress on the project.

Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop came under fire at Holyrood from MSPs seven months after she revealed that a deal was close with a private sector developer.

Ms Hyslop insisted progress was being made, but was unable to identify the preferred site for the long-delayed project or who would be operating it when she appeared before MSPs.

Ms Hyslop had revealed to a parliamentary inquiry that a new film studio proposal was being “actively pursued” after admitting that none of the proposals which had come forward via an earlier tendering process had proved viable.

Hours later Scottish Enterprise, which has been leading efforts to secure a studio, said it “was working towards completing due diligence and agreeing heads of terms with the developer within eight weeks.”

The economy committee heard from a host of industry figures earlier this year about the damage to Scotland’s standing as a UK production hub by the absence of a studio facility.

An official inquiry report, published in March, urged the government and Scottish Enterprise to reach a decision on the latest proposal “as soon as possible.”

But Ms Hyslop was unable to provide news of any substance when she spoke during a debate on the creative industries at Holyrood, citing commercial confidentiality.

Murdo Fraser, chair of the economy committee, said: “We have heard evidence of just how important it is that Scottish producers, both in film and television, that we have studio capacity here in Scotland.

“At one time there seemed to be at least three separate bids coming forward and there might be more. We need to know what it is happening with this and what happens next. We understand the government cannot entirely fund a film studio, but how are we going to decide which of these projects finds favour what is the likely timescale?”

Johann Lamont, the former Scottish Labour leader, said: “We are not even at first base on where or whether the film studio is going to happen, when people are crying out for it.”

Ms Hyslop set up a “film studio delivery group” two and a half years ago and an official study published the following year, which recommended seeking private sector bids, found there was a “clear opportunity” for such a facility in Scotland.

The culture secretary told the economy committee in February that the new studio proposal, which the government cannot fully fund due to EU state aid rules, exceeded an earlier development brief and included one of the highest soundstages in the UK.

Ms Hyslop, who has just announced an additional £1.75 million to attract productions to Scotland, said today: “The film studio is still subject to negotiation with the private partner.

“Those discussions are continuing, but I cannot give you details of who, where and when. We are on the case in terms of making sure we have that studio. Everyone is very, very clear that we need that infrastructure.

“Progress is being made, but as the inquiry report found, a studio on its own is not the only answer.

“It is important to have additional incentives to stimulate interest and investment from the private sector and enable us to compete with other locations.”