Spend more on British films, MPs tell broadcasters

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The Independent Culture

The BBC was condemned yesterday for failing to back British films by MPs who called on all broadcasters to give more support to the industry.

The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport said Britain's broadcasters should finance and show more home-made films rather than relying on American imports.

Greg Dyke, the BBC's director general, was singled out for criticism. "Mr Dyke was almost cursory about the BBC's approach to investment in British films. There was little to suggest that the BBC had a serious strategy," the MPs concluded in their report, The British Film Industry.

The BBC's film budget of £10m a year was the same as that of the considerably smaller Channel 4, the MPs noted, even though Channel 4 had closed its separate film-making division and returned to concentrating on lower budget productions.

Gerald Kaufman, the committee's chairman, said: "Unfortunately, ITV hasn't got a record at all." Sky, too, was criticised for having a poor record of screening British movies and was urged to show more.

Chris Bryant, a committee member, said film had been a driving force behind the take-up of satellite television. "So there must be some onus of responsibility on Sky as well as the right to cream off a decent profit," he said.

The MPs also made a plea to the Treasury to extend tax breaks. A copy of the report is to be sent to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who introduced tax incentives for the British movie industry that have widely been credited for the resurgence in production. But one of the most important tax incentives, Section 48 relief for films budgeted up to £15m, is due to expire in two years and the committee called for its urgent renewal - or, if possible, an extension.

The MPs argued that the existing level of tax relief for film production was "absolutely essential" to the health of the industry.

Their report concluded: "Lead times for decisions about inward investment are long, therefore the Government must end the current uncertainty plaguing the industry, must do so in a positive manner and needs to do it as quickly as possible."

Mr Kaufman said the increasing level of competition not just from Canada and Australia but also from eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic meant that the need for the Chancellor to accept the committee's recommendations on support was even greater than it had been a few years ago.

Sir Alan Parker, the director and chairman of the UK Film Council, welcomed the committee's findings on tax incentives and on the broadcasters. He described the broadcasters' track record of support for British films as "pitifully poor".

The industry in this country was currently enjoying a run of successes with films such as Calendar Girls and Bend It Like Beckham, Sir Alan said. "But without the continued support of the National Lottery and the fiscal incentives provided by the Treasury, the majority of new, distinctively UK films would not be made." he added.

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