Lewis Macdonald : Scottish Screen Sector

23 October 2018

Speech in the Scottish Parliament


Three years on and a committee of this Parliament is once again calling for action to turn the potential for a world-leading Scottish screen industry into reality.

I was a member of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee when its inquiry began this time last year, and I was a member of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, which reported on the economic potential of the Scottish film and television more than three years ago.

A glance at that committee’s report shows that much of what it felt was important then is what the current report highlights today, and a look at today’s report shows what has changed—and what has not—in that time.

In 2015, the first three recommendations focused on the need for a world-class film and TV studio in Scotland.

The Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee called for a Government decision on existing proposals “as soon as possible”, for Government evaluation of what more could be done.

“as a matter of urgency” .

and for Government direction of public agencies, because their failure to work together was “acting as a barrier” to effective support for.

“the economic and cultural needs of the film industry”.

Three years on, there have been changes in those key areas, but not enough.

Scotland lacked a world-class film studio then and we lack one still.

We were told then that the Government had to be cautious about its approach, that it was up to others to make things happen and that the private sector would come up with a solution.

However, that has not happened yet, and simply saying that action will come is no substitute for action on the ground.

In 2015, the Government said that Creative Scotland, the enterprise agencies and Skills Development Scotland really could work together to improve support for the screen industry, despite all the industry concerns to the contrary, which we have heard about today.

Three years later, multiple agencies are still involved, despite the welcome establishment of screen Scotland and the cautious improvements in its focus, which Joan McAlpine mentioned.

It is all the more important, in that case, that screen Scotland be empowered to make the big decisions without having constantly to seek approval from other public agencies.

I see that the minister is nodding. I hope that she can give some assurances on that.

Fiona Hyslop: .

Any major investment of over £500,000 would need to go to a Creative Scotland board decision, as is the case for any other agency. .

Three screen experts are now part of that, and we have the industry advisory group. .

With anything less than £500,000, screen Scotland can move ahead.

I give Lewis Macdonald that reassurance.

Lewis Macdonald: .

That reassurance is welcome but, as the cabinet secretary said, big decisions have to go to the board of Creative Scotland. .

That is the fundamental difference between what the Government is taking forward and what the committee recommends in its report and the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee called for three years ago—that is, a stand-alone agency that is able to make the big decisions itself.

Of course, one recommendation from three years ago has been implemented, which has led us to today’s debate.

The screen sector leadership group was created as a direct response to a recommendation in the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s report.

As the cabinet secretary said, it will continue as the industry advisory group under the new arrangements.

The SSLG’s report in January informed the views of the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee in the lead-up to today’s debate, and I hope that the leaders of the sector will agree that the report that we are debating matches the boldness of its vision. .

The report calls for urgent and significant progress on a purpose-built studio in Scotland, saying that

“We need delivery, not debate.”

That means that ministers should not hang back because one particular project has fallen, but should redouble their efforts to ensure that projects come forward that can be delivered.

The committee has also warned that screen Scotland must not be

“burdened by cumbersome and overly bureaucratic governance arrangements.”

The production of an interim report in May, which emphasised the case for a strong and autonomous Scottish screen agency, was unusual.

It marks the difference in today’s debate.

The committee report that we are debating today builds on that interim recommendation and makes the case.

It is the logical culmination of the process that was begun in 2015 to have a separate and autonomous screen agency in the future.

As we have already heard, the Scottish screen industry was second only to London 20 and even 10 years ago.

It has now fallen behind other nations and regions in the UK.

I hope that ministers will devise the business plan for screen Scotland as a step towards the creation of an autonomous agency on the model of Northern Ireland Screen, as the committee recommends.

I also hope that ministers will take a proactive and imaginative approach to providing public support for the establishment of a world-class studio in Scotland—again, as the committee recommends.

If ministers take both steps in those two areas, during the next session of Parliament the relevant committee will be able to publish a report that is about achievement, and not just about potential.