Gerry Steinberg MPIn the House...

Commons Gate

Improving access to, and education about, the moving image through the British Film Institute (HC 593)

Public Accounts Committee 7 May 2003

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Witnesses: MS SUE STREET, Permanent Secretary, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DAMS), MR JOHN WOODWARD, Chief Executive Officer, Film Council (FC) and MR ADRIAN WOOTTON, Acting Director, British Film Institute (PFI), examined.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg

Q49 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I have to say to the three of you that on reading this report it will take a lot to convince me that most of the schemes are good value, regardless of your actual performance. From what I have heard this afternoon in some of your answers, I am not convinced at all; in fact I am even less convinced. The second thing which struck me in the report, was why the taxpayer pays at all. Considering the vast sums of money which are made by people in the film industry, certain individuals in the film industry, why do they not pay for it? Why should J K Rowling who writes Harry Potter and makes millions out of the films, and I do not object to her making this, not contribute? Why should Hugh Grant not contribute from the millions he makes out of the rubbish he does? On BBC television you have people like Barrymore who are paid £1 million. Why can they not contribute? Why do they not contribute and put something back into the industry which is giving them an obscene fortune?

Ms Street: I guess that is one for me. The logic is that some of the superstars, the big earners in all fields, contribute through their taxes. So in a sense that is the way the exchequer takes account.

Q50 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): We all contribute through our taxes but that is irrelevant.

Ms Street: Yes, but I hope Hugh Grant contributes more than most of us. That is the logic of where their big profits are ploughed back. I completely understand why you would question this. It is a judgement about what we stand to gain from promoting and assisting a vibrant film industry. You get the same sorts of arguments for assisting any industry through government. The PFI already earns about 50 per cent of its income through commercial activity, so it is always a question of how much you balance taxpayers' subsidy with income generation. We are always looking for more income generation prospect.

Q51 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): That is not answering the question though, with great respect. What we are talking about is a subsidy of something like £20 million to this organisation which in terms of expenditure is virtually nothing compared with some of the things we see in front of us which run into billions of pounds. On the other hand, these people themselves are almost earning that much money a year; Rowling herself must earn that a year. Why can she not contribute something to it? Why is that not written into contracts?

Ms Street: I would have to be advised on the tax position for J K Rowling, but I am pretty sure she is being hammered.

Q52 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I am not talking about tax, I am talking about a contribution from them to their own industry.

Ms Street: I certainly understand the point.

Q53 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): People should perhaps look at it.

Ms Street: I would just set out that we do need a vibrant film industry for jobs for the future and that is where the government subsidy comes in.

Q54 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Jobs are always the comeback line, as though millions of jobs are given to everybody. I shall come onto that in a minute when I have finished my questioning on how and where films are made. Have a look at page 18. The Chairman looked at this figure, but he did not go into great detail. I should be very interested to know what some of these things mean. For example, I am interested in the first five or six. It begins with "research viewings" and the net subsidy for each access opportunity is £123.78 and £168,000 in total. What does that actually mean?

Mr Wootton: What that means is specialist access to the collections of the National Film and Television Archive.

Q55 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): By whom?

Mr Wootton: By academics, researchers.

Q56 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So an academic comes along and he asks to see the archives and out of my taxes I pay a contribution of £123 for him to do that.

Mr Wootton: He pays something as well.

Q57 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I do not care how much he pays. He should pay the lot. Why should I pay for that?

Mr Wootton: From our point of view, the reason we have research viewings is that it is an obligation of ours to make that available so people can write about film history and can research into film history. It is an important part of making a particular kind of access.

Q58 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): It is not important at all. It is irrelevant. It is somebody doing some academic work who comes along to you and you find something for him, or you allow him to go in to research, to do some viewings and the taxpayer ends up paying £123. What does "cataloguing enquiries" mean and £84 every time that is done? What does that mean?

Mr Wootton: That is when somebody asks to examine a particular aspect of PFI's cataloguing of all its material to research particular film material we may hold.

Q59 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): So somebody comes along and asks to see a film or see something about a film and we all pay £84 for the pleasure of him or her doing that.

Mr Wootton: That is the cost of the subsidy. I would say that there is a very rigorous selection process in terms of the types of researchers we make the research viewings available to and the cataloguing enquiries.

Q60 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Why can they not pay for it themselves? Why should we subsidise it?

Mr Wootton: If we were to pass on the direct costs of that activity to everyone who did it, effectively we would be excluding people from access to our collections rather than including.

Q61 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Who would you be excluding?

Mr Wootton: Excluding people whom we believe ---

Q62 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I wonder how many of my constituents have been along to access it. Who accesses it? Give me some example of who accesses it. Professor So-and-So of So-and-So University?

Mr Wootton: It would be a variety of people. Yes, it would be film historians, it would be academics, it would be journalists, it would be critics, a whole variety of different people. It may be a film maker researching a particular film.

Q63 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): If he is doing that why should he not pay for it? Why should we pay for it?

Mr Wootton: They do pay fees. I am not saying those fee levels are high enough. I am saying also that the reason the subsidy for research viewings is so high at the moment is because it is an extremely labour intensive process. One of the things we are looking at in terms of new technology is moving away from research viewings where people actually have to watch films, to where we can transfer the material digitally and then people can look at digital videotape of the material, which will reduce that cost dramatically, which is another part of our forward looking strategy.

Q64 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): That still has nothing to do with the fact that they are getting subsidised for doing it, nothing at all. I think you get my drift. We will move on. "Moving Pictures admissions" £28.88. What does that mean?

Mr Wootton: That was the net subsidy cost relating to the exhibition that the British Film Institute developed and which went to Sheffield.

Q65 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): For everybody who went to see that my constituents helped by paying £28 for every person who went in.

Mr Wootton: For that one presentation, which was the first place it has gone, yes. The plan is that that exhibition is going to be touring further. It has been broken down into smaller modules and its costs will be amortised over a longer period of time. That is what the subsidy is now, but as it moves and tours around in different modules to different centres, that subsidy cost will reduce.

Q66 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): That is great to hear. Just going down this list, the National Film Theatre admissions are subsidised by £12 a visit. We will come onto that in my next questions. If we turn to page 21, paragraph 3.5, Mr Trickett touched upon this and frankly the answers you gave him did not satisfy me. Let me quote it"... PFI audiences have a strong bias towards those living in London and the South East, and having above average incomes. And, whilst the PFI appears to be reaching diverse audiences in terms, for example, of ethnicity or sexual orientation, very few young people take up access opportunities such as those offered by the National Film Theatre". In other words, rich, minority groups are subsidised to go to the National Film Theatre.

Mr Wootton: As I indicated in my previous answer, that material is being made available and circulated throughout the UK. Do I think it is good enough in terms of the range of audiences across the board at the National Film Theatre? No, I do not. Certainly in terms of ---

Q67 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): You are not really answering the question. You are flanneling quite honestly. What I say to you is: how do you justify £12.07 a time when I do not have a cinema in Durham, my constituents are not necessarily very rich, certainly I would not have thought the vast majority of them are diversely sexually orientated, but they have nowhere to go to see a film because the cinema is closed down because it was worth more on the open market for development. How can you justify subsidising that and my constituents are paying for it who cannot go to the pictures on a Saturday night if they want to?

Mr Wootton: I would not ---

Q68 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Why do you not put some money into my constituency?

Mr Wootton: From the British Film Institute's point of view, and we have said this on a number of occasions, we do believe that there is a place and a purpose for a national cinemateque for the National Film Theatre, making films available, which otherwise would not be available, not just old black and white films, not just archival classics, but material from across the world which would not be available otherwise. That material is toured around the UK.

Q69 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): It is astounding. My constituents cannot go to see the most recent film which has been released. I have not been to the pictures for years and I am not interested, to be honest. On the other hand, I suspect thousands of my constituents are interested. Would you subsidise somebody to go to see an old black and white film which they can see on BBC1 or BBC2 at two o'clock in the afternoon? It seems incredible.

Mr Wootton: That is not the largest proportion of the material from the National Film Theatre. Yes, we do show a lot of archive film and a lot of black and white films, but we also show a whole range of culturally diverse cinema from all over the world which would not otherwise be available to UK audiences. We do make those films available across the UK. I accept what you are saying about local cinemas and that there needs to be more investment in local cinemas and commercial cinemas.

Q70 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Where is the regional screen agency for my constituency?

Mr Wootton: There is a regional screen agency which I believe is based in Newcastle but covers the Durham area.

Mr Woodward: In a sense to go back over some of the previous ground around not only the screen agencies but the points Ms Street was making much earlier on about the developing plans at the Film Council's end to extend the range of films which are on offer, we are in the process of taking responsibility for a £15 million package of capital funding from the Arts Council of England. When we were set up as the Film Council a proportion of capital funding for film related activities stayed with the Arts Council and the intention is to put together a screen network around the UK which will enable the delivery on a regular basis of a more diverse range of films. I cannot be sure, and I could come back to you after this hearing, where your constituency would precisely fit into that. The plan is to get that network up and moving in the next 12 to 18 months.

Q71 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Could I suggest that if I ask the chief executive of my local authority to contact you he could look forward to receiving some sort of grant from you?

Mr Woodward: He could look forward to a sensible and serious conversation, absolutely.

Q72 Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I am not interested in sensible and serious conversations, I am interested in screens to show Harry Potter in my constituency.

Mr Woodward: I should be happy to take that up with him.

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