Outlook: British films need more help

ALL INDUSTRIES need to fight for attention, love and favour from ministers, but the film industry does rather seem to get more than its fair share. It even has its own think-tank in the Department of Culture, the Film Policy Review Group, and Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, is constantly banging on about the need to do more to help.

It's easy to be cynical about the reasons for this, and no doubt there is a large element of the luvvie factor in it. So much easier to get in the door if you are Dickie Attenborough, David Puttnam or Kenneth Branagh, than plain old Joe Bloggs of Amalgamated Widgets. But there are good reasons for it too. Despite Brit Pop and Cool Britannia, the UK has an entertainment trade deficit with the United States running to billions of dollars a year.

And despite our wealth of creative talent and expertise, film in Britain is still not much more than a cottage industry which struggles to compete against the big batallions of Hollywood, with its unparalleled access to capital and huge investment in production, marketing and distribution. Even with a following wind, the British industry can never hope to catch up with the US, whose success springs from the unified culture of its vast domestic market. Language differences will stop that from ever being mirrored within the European Union. All the same, there's probably more that can be done to correct the balance.

The package of measures announced by Mr Smith this week are welcome enough, but they are not going to make much of a difference. Normally, it would not be right to support any kind of industry specific subsidy, aid or tax break, but in the case of film, this might just about be justified. As Mr Smith's policy unit has pointed out, the film industry has enormous potential for creating the sort of employment most of us have come to want and expect from the modern economy. The 100 per cent write off for film finance introduced in the July Budget was a step in the right direction, but by limiting the amount to pounds 15m, the Treasury has ensured a poor takeup and guaranteed that big budget foreign inspired movies cannot take advantage of it. It's time to do more.

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