Stephen Foley: Hunt's cameo can't hide Pinewood concerns

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The Independent Online

Outlook The Secretary of State for Culture, Jeremy Hunt, crowbarred his way into the press release announcing Pinewood Shepperton's plan to invest in small-budget UK films yesterday. Perhaps he is feeling guilty about the cavalier abolition of the UK Film Council.

Whatever his reasons for wanting to express official "delight" about Pinewood's tweak to its business model, it was clear this was a scheme that has nothing to do with the Government.

Pinewood is simply trying to find a little extra business for its 34 film and 10 television stages, after the BBC and ITV pulled a lot of their filming work back in-house. By offering to take equity in British movies instead of cash payments for use of its facilities, it is gambling a slice of future revenues.

Nothing wrong with that, of course, if it means less spare capacity at Pinewood and Shepperton. But it falls a long way from the step change that is being demanded by dissident shareholder Crystal Amber, and which ought to be demanded by other investors, too.

Pinewood's operating profit last year remains one-quarter below the level in 2004, when it floated. Its plans to expand a "media park" of creative companies renting office space adjacent to its studios seems so far to be failing to lift margins. Crystal Amber believes there is unexploited value in the property portfolio. It will take some creative new thinking to unlock it.