Is a Scottish quango game of thrones holding our media back?

Written by Tom Freeman on 10 April 2015 in Comment

Scotland's agencies' lack of collaboration has led to a lack of a film studio

Given Scottish Parliament committees have seemed less likely to show their teeth in recent years, the recent report by the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee into the economic impact of the film, TV and video games industries made welcome reading, as it urged the relevant quangos to pull their socks up.

What is astonishing about the findings of the report is an apparent lack of ability of agencies to collaborate, or work with the industry itself.

Watching the Northern Irish First Minister and Deputy First Minister paraded on Holywood's red carpet at the Game of Thrones premiere in 2013 (see picture) would have been tough viewing for those who nearly persuaded the series to shoot in Scotland. Game of Thrones is shot at the new Titanic studios in Belfast. Ongoing attempts to secure a Scottish film studio, which feels like it has been dragging on my entire adult life, should be resolved “as soon as possible”, said the committee. "Any further delay is likely to cause lasting damage to our film and TV industries," said convener Murdo Fraser.

After many failed attempts to secure a large film studio in Scotland, the Scottish Government has been unable to follow examples in Wales and Northern Ireland because it doesn’t have the available physical assets, and is restricted by European Commission (EC) rules on state-aid in a competitive market. 

But isn’t this predicament exactly what the likes of Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise are for?

The committee’s report found: “The separate and distinct remits of Scottish Enterprise and Creative Scotland are acting as a barrier to working cohesively to effectively support the film industry.” In other words, get your heads together and sort it.

"Isn’t this predicament exactly what the likes of Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise are for?"

It gets worse. In terms of television broadcasting, the committee expressed concern at a lack of any strategy to grow and support the television sector in Creative Scotland’s 10-year plan. If our own organisation set up to support the creative industries can’t recognise the importance of Scottish broadcasting, what hope do we have the BBC will start to use some more of its £337m a year in Scottish license fees on programmes made here? Currently it’s only around a third.

And as for video games, a report commissioned by Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise in 2012 found only 200 people working in the games industry, suggesting it had a value of zero. Yet Edinburgh-based Rockstar North alone employs over 200 people and makes Grand Theft Auto, a game which made more than the entire global music industry in its first week of release.

Thankfully since 2012 the games industry has started to become more vocal in making itself heard and understood. The Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee have recommended Creative Scotland lead coordination of the industry and establish a national strategy. It would be better than ignoring it, after all.

In evidence Creative Scotland chief executive Janet Archer told MSPs the body had not been set up in a way that enabled it to engage with other public bodies, but that it had recently undergone a reorganisation exercise to address this. 

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