The row between sections of the British film industry and the Government escalated last night when senior figures at the UK Film Council were summoned to the Department of Culture, Media & Sport for a dressing down amid claims of misuse of public money.
Ed Vaizey, the minister for culture, communications and creative industries, wrote a terse letter to John Woodward, chief executive of the UK Film Council, demanding to know whether the quango had been spending public funds on campaigning for a reprieve for the council by "briefing" the film industry that the Government's decision to close the agency was driving movie projects overseas.
The decision this month by the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to close the UK Film Council has provoked protests from directors and actors. The strength of the campaign appears to have alarmed ministers, with rumours in the film industry that projects such as the fourth in the series of Underworld vampire films, which is in development, have chosen not to shoot in the UK because of the agency's closure. Government sources said this had nothing to do with the demise of the UK Film Council.
Mr Vaizey has asked leaders of the agency to attend the DCMS today "as a matter of urgency". The Tories released a section of the letter sent to the council. "I am very concerned about what has come to light," wrote Mr Vaizey. "It looks as though sources at the Film Council have been overzealously briefing in order to protect their interests. As a result they may be damaging the film industry that they purport to represent. This is completely wrong and I will be seeking urgent reassurances that the Film Council will promote the interests of the film industry rather than its own from now on."