Hunt replies to critics in the Observer

In the Observer business section today:

Jeremy Hunt: I’ve cut the UK Film Council so that money goes to the industry

The culture secretary says that financial support for UK film-makers will continue and that he has axed an expensive quango
My first decision as culture secretary was to abolish ministerial cars, saving £250,000 a year. I wanted to send a signal that the money we spend on culture should go to culture, not ministerial pay or privileges.

It is in that context that last week I announced the abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. My department is responsible for an extraordinary 55 quangos, the vast majority with highly paid bosses and costly bureaucracy. But if we are going to face budget cuts I have a duty to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent where it gets the most bang for its buck. It is simply not acceptable in these times to fund an organisation like the UK Film Council, where no fewer than eight of the top executives are paid more than £100,000.

Stopping money being spent on a film quango is not the same as stopping money being spent on film. In fact my second decision actually increased the amount of money going into film when I restored the lottery to its original four pillars, increasing the share going to arts (including film) to 20%. This is expected to increase lottery funding for film by around £3m a year.

Britain is the world’s third-biggest film market, with box office receipts of nearly £1bn last year. We make Hollywood blockbusters – including the two biggest franchises of all, Harry Potter and Bond – as well as creative successes such as Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. Less high profile but equally significant is the incredible skills base we have in our world-class facilities sector which includes visual effects and special effects.

But if the industry is to expand further, we also need to be honest about its failings. Two areas in particular need close attention.

The first is the chronic difficulties associated with film financing. Lew Grade said of Raise the Titanic that it would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic. The challenges have not gone away. All too often when British film-makers want to make anything of scale, they end up selling all the intellectual property rights in advance simply to finance production. The result is that when we have a hit, the profits do not go back to the film-maker where they could be used to finance the next production. This is what happened with Slumdog Millionaire, a creative success for Film4 but a financial success for Fox Searchlight.

We welcome all foreign investment, which is why the film tax credit is staying. Worth at least £100m a year this is no small commitment. But a healthy film industry will also have a strong homegrown element. Our independent television production sector has understood the importance of IP retention and has become the largest exporter of TV formats in the world.

The second area we need to be honest about is where taxpayers and lottery money is best spent. That is why we want an open debate about, for example, how we fund films of high artistic worth that are unlikely to make it to general release. How do we ensure the public get to see the films they are paying for?

The other decision I have made is to guarantee the future of the British Film Institute. The role it plays in supporting our cultural heritage and promoting the cultural value of film is crucial. But we want to see them do this more effectively, so are looking to remove some of the red tape around what they do and give them greater operational and artistic freedom.

Support for film through the lottery and tax credits will continue. But it must be right to address the structural challenges it faces and focus resources on supporting frontline film-makers rather than expensive bureaucracy. We should not accept the relative size of the British film industry as a fait accompli. Rather, we must step up our ambitions and make the UK the best country for nurturing and promoting its homegrown creative talent.

Hunt reaffirms commitment to the arts

Letters from Jeremy Hunt and Brian Winston in the Guardian yesterday:

Our commitment to the arts is rock solid

The Guardian 31 July 2010

Polly Toynbee claims (Comment, 28 July) the government wants to replace public funding of the arts with private. That is simply not the case – I have always argued that private funding should be in addition to, not instead of, public money. Why? Because state funding offers stability over many years which usually philanthropy cannot. It also, with a proper arm’s-length relationship, allows creative risk-taking and artistic freedom that is not always possible with other forms of funding. But the arts, too, should play their part in helping to reduce the deficit.

So we need to protect the arts, which in this country are probably the finest offered anywhere in the world. We also need to explore whether the government can do anything else to help. That’s why I returned the lottery to its original four pillars, which will lead to a significant boost in arts funding. That’s why I am concentrating on removing costs from the parts of my budget that are not frontline. That is also why we are right to explore whether philanthropy can be increased, with the important caveat that this will be more difficult for smaller organisations, especially those outside London. Restoring the nation’s finances is in the interests of all our sectors. We don’t yet know what cuts we will have to make to our budget in the autumn spending review, but this government’s support for the arts remains rock solid. The 2 million people in our creative industries and our reputation as a society that is both civilised and creative demand no less.

Jeremy Hunt MP

Secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport

• As a governor of the British Film Institute at the time of the creation of the UK Film Council, I have to demur from Colin McArthur’s description of the BFI’s support for the UKFC as “treacherous” because the council was “designed to supplant it” (Letters, 29 July). The council was not so designed, but rather it represented a rational plan to focus official support for the film industry. The BFI’s cultural functions were left untouched. OK, I will admit to naivety. The Film Council rapidly became a quango to give quangos a bad name – its chief executive earning more than the director of the Tate. He and its bloated staff have palpably failed to build a self-sustaining film industry. But we were not to know that in 2000. Not all of us at that time despised the BFI “as a ghetto peopled by unworldly intellectuals”. For me it was rather a matter of its patchy record of support for production. McArthur’s touching belief in the “irony” of the BFI surviving the Film Council is probably just as naive as my belief a decade ago that the Film Council was a good idea. The BFI is surely just as threatened by this government’s Kulturkampf as any other cultural organisation.

Professor Brian Winston

University of Lincoln

Letters: Our commitment to the arts is rock solid | Culture | The Guardian