Cronyism claim as six on Film Council get £23m in Lottery grants

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The Film Council faced accusations of cronyism last night because it has awarded £23m in lottery grants to movie companies linked to six of its 13 directors.

The Film Council faced accusations of cronyism last night because it has awarded £23m in lottery grants to movie companies linked to six of its 13 directors.

Tory MPs demanded that ministers explain why the leading agency for British cinema had distributed large sums to projects involving members of its own board.

The six, including Duncan Kenworthy, the producer of Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Tim Bevan, the film-maker behind Notting Hill, had grants of up to £7.6m between April 2000 and December 2001.

The figures, revealed in the council's annual report published this month, prompted the Conservatives to suggest that its lottery award arrangements were "too cosy for words".

Mr Kenworthy, and another member of the Council board, is also a member of the Government's film policy review group.

The Film Council strongly refuted any suggestion that board members had effectively awarded themselves millions of pounds in lottery cash, but Tim Yeo, the shadow Culture spokesman, insisted people had a right to know about the figures.

"I am not suggesting there is any actual impropriety, but it appears that quite a large amount of lottery money is being used to support projects in which the Government's friends have a financial interest," Mr Yeo said.

The council was set up by the Government in 2000 with a mission to develop a sustainable British film industry that could compete with US and European rivals.

It has a three-year budget of £150m and has invested in recent box-office successes such as Robert Altman's Gosford Park, which has a star-studded British cast. The council inherited cinema lottery awards from the Arts Council, as well as the three film franchises, Pathe Pictures, the Film Consortium and DNA Films, set up in 1997 to lead the way for the British industry.

But six of its board are connected with the three franchises, including Mr Bevan, co-chairman and founder of Working Title Films, Mr Kenworthy and Paul Webster, chief executive of Film Four Ltd. The others are Chris Auty, chief executive of Film Consortium and also a member of the government's Film Policy Review Group, James Lee, a director of DNA films, and Sarah Radclyffe, co-founder of Working Title.

The largest grant of £7.6m was to Pathe Pictures, of which Ms Radclyffe is a director. The Film Consortium, where Mr Auty is a director, received £6.1m; DNA Films, where Mr Kenworthy and Mr Lee are directors, landed £4m; Mr Bevan's company received £1m; and FilmFour, where Mr Webster is chief executive, got £4.5m.

A spokesman for the Film Council defended the lottery grants, saying the majority of the £23m had been earmarked by the Arts Council and the money had merely been distributed by the Film Council.

The three film franchises were run by three fund managers and none of the board had any connection with their work. The directors advised only on wider strategy, not individual project funding.

"When the Film Council was set up 18 months ago, the Government wanted to see that the board was made up of people who were influential in the industry, directors, producers and even academics," he said.

"You will always get some kind of crossover because the industry is so small, but there's no conflict of interest because we do not have people awarding themselves lottery funds."

Since the Film Council took over the funding, such big awards are no longer the norm and a maximum of 5 per cent of funds goes to single projects.

Council directors who benefited

Duncan Kenworthy
Producer, 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'.

His company, DNA Films, received £4m

Tim Bevan
Producer, 'Bridget Jones's Diary'.

His company, Working Title, received £1m