Estimated reading time: 4 Minutes
08 July 2019
Over the last decade, the value of film and television production in Wales has more than doubled, with growth in this sector outstripping that across the UK as a whole. A recent inquiry into Film and major television production in Wales by the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications (CWLC) Committee celebrated this growth, whilst calling on the Welsh Government to develop a strategy to grow the sector further, especially the indigenous Welsh film industry.
The Welsh Government has accepted the bulk of the Committee’s recommendations. However, the vehicle that the Government has identified for implementing these recommendations is Creative Wales, a proposed Welsh Government body for supporting the creative industries. Since it was mentioned in a Welsh Government strategy document in 2016, Creative Wales remains unestablished.
Large growth, from a low base
Since 2007, growth in the screen industries has been significantly faster in Wales than it has across the UK; albeit from a considerably lower base. However, the sector in Wales still forms far less than a population-based share of the sector in the UK as a whole.
- Since 2007, Gross Value Added (GVA) of motion picture, video and TV programme production in Wales has grown from £62 million to £200 million in 2017. This is an increase of 223%.
- In the UK as a whole, GVA in this area has grown from £7billion in 2007 to £12.2 billion in 2017. This is an increase of 73%.
- Between 2007 and 2017, Welsh GVA in this area has grown from 0.9% of the UK total to 1.6% of the UK total.
The need for a “long-term sustainable legacy for Wales”
During this decade of growth, the Welsh Government has had several initiatives designed to boost the sector. It has invested in film studios, such as Pinewood and Wolf Studios in Cardiff, and had a Media Investment Budget (MIB) to invest in individual film and television projects.
But stakeholders felt that this action lacked focus. Screen Alliance Wales (a development agency for the screen industry set up by production company Bad Wolf) told the Committee that “projects have been funded randomly based on the profile of the company but not looking at a long-term sustainable legacy for Wales”.
The Committee therefore called on the Welsh Government to publish a screen strategy setting out how the industry in Wales can:
- be financially secure;
- develop small businesses to take advantage of larger scale productions;
- attract productions with a range of values and cultural diversity;
- support Welsh language and other distinctly Welsh productions with a view to increasing the visibility of Welsh language and culture on the international stage; and
- take responsibility for identifying and mitigating skills gaps through formal and informal learning; and how work and learning opportunities will be promoted to ensure they can be accessed by a diverse talent pool.
The Welsh Government accepted the recommendation for a screen strategy, along with 12 other of the report’s 17 recommendations. However, it did so – as it did with 8 other recommendations – by reference to Creative Wales, saying that “A robust strategy to support our Screen industry will be a vital part of the wider plans for Creative Wales”.
Creative Wales: lights, camera … action?
The story of Creative Wales goes back to at least 2016, when the Welsh Government published Light springs through the dark: a vision for culture in Wales. This announced the Cabinet Secretary’s plan “to establish ‘Creative Wales’ to support the creative industries”. “This new body”, it said, “will sustain at least 850 jobs and £40 million a year in production expenditure”.
In November 2018 the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism told CWLC that Creative Wales would be established “over the next few months”. In April 2019 the Deputy Minister issued an oral statement providing an update on the Creative Wales proposals, stating that it would be “established clearly within the Government during the next two months”.
Despite reports that Government officials have been meeting with industry representatives to discuss the new body, Creative Wales remains unestablished.
The Welsh Government and Pinewood: a relationship which did “not represent good value for money”
When the Committee begun its inquiry in spring 2018, the Welsh Government had recently embarked on a relationship with Pinewood Studios, about which little was publicly known. This relationship involved Pinewood operating a studio in Wentloog, outside Cardiff, and managing a screen investment fund – the Media Investment Budget – on the Welsh Government’s behalf.
During the inquiry the Wales Audit Office published a report which shone an uncomfortable light on this relationship (subsequently also the subject of a Public Accounts Committee report). Auditors revealed that the Welsh Government had ended up paying Pinewood to run the studio, in a relationship that officials conceded did not represent good value for money. The Welsh Government struggled to spend from its Media Investment Budget, and its initial recoupment estimates were unfulfilled.
The Media Investment Budget: yet to fulfil its commercial potential
Launched in 2014, the Media Investment Budget (MIB) was a £30 million fund, to be made available over five years for investment in film and TV development, production and distribution. After Welsh Government officials raised concerns about conflicts of interest Pinewood ceased its involvement with the fund in 2017.
The Welsh Government planned to recoup its investments through repayments of loans and returns on equity, and to reinvest those income streams in further production projects. This had the potential to create a self-renewing or ‘evergreen’ fund. Officials anticipated that the MIB would invest between £12 million and £15 million per year.
As well as generating a return on its investment, the MIB included criteria to ensure that productions were shot in Wales (at least 50% of individual productions) and spent money in Wales (at least 35% of non-creative spend).
In its response to the Committee’s report, the Welsh Government has provided further details of the performance of the MIB. As of June 2019, £15 million had been invested through the fund, with only £4.7 million recouped to date. Projects that the Welsh Government had invested in had spent at least £25 million in Wales: without knowing the total non-creative budgets of these productions, it is impossible to say if the Welsh Government’s 35% spend in Wales target has been met.
Although these figures show a net loss of over £10 million, the Welsh Government points out that many of the projects have yet to realise their commercial potential – some are still filming, and others have only just finished production.
The fund is now dormant, awaiting the launch of Creative Wales. The nature of future Welsh Government investment in screen productions – as with so much Welsh Government support for the sector – awaits the creation of Creative Wales.
Article by Robin Wilkinson, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales