Scottish Lottery board members 'gave themselves funding for films'

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The panel responsible for distributing National Lottery money to fund Scottish films was accused yesterday of favouring colleagues' films.

Scottish Screen has put £2.4m of its 2000-01 lottery budget into five major films, of which three are being produced by members of Scottish Screen's committees or their relatives. The three have taken up £1.55m of the total.

Scottish Screen's largest award, totalling £650,000 went to Magdalene, a film produced by Frances Higson. Her mother, the film maker Paddy Higson, was a member of Scottish Screen until recently. Scottish Screen also gave a £400,000 lottery grant to Late Night Shopping, produced by Angus Lamont, a member of Scottish Screen's development panel.

Another £500,000 grant went to Morvern Callar, directed by the acclaimed Lynne Ramsay and produced by BBC Scotland's head of drama, Barbara McKissack. She is also on Scottish Screen's lottery panel.

In addition, a National Lottery fund development loan was made to a small film project by Gabriel Films, owned by Catherine Aitken, who sits on the Scottish Screen projects committee. And £24,000 went to Unscrew, a short film directed by Clara Glynn, the wife of John Archer, the quango's chief executive. Mr Archer declared his relationship and did not take part in the meeting at which the grant was approved.

Scottish Screen denies bias in any of the lottery awards. Mr Archer says that Scottish Screen has now changed its procedures and committee members connected with a project applying for funding must now declare an interest at least three months in advance.

The dispute over funding procedures has provoked an intervention by the Scottish culture minister, Allan Wilson.

A spokesman at Mr Wilson's office said: "Scottish Screen's procedures should ensure those with an interest in a particular application do not participate in any discussion over its funding. These procedures were strengthened following the transfer of lottery funding from the Scottish Arts Council last year. The minister is seeking assurances that these procedures are followed in all cases."

One Scottish film producer said, though: "There is a certain wine bar in Glasgow's West End where, I swear, all you have to do is open the door and throw in a tangerine and you are guaranteed to hit an aspiring screenwriter who has received funding from Scottish Screen. Should that tangerine then ricochet it would hit a relative who has also had funding."