As the political battle intensifies, we launch a series on how post-election life for various sectors in the region could shape up. First, Anna Blackaby looks at the creative industries.
The creative industries have long been the darling of the public sector, with local councils, the regional screen agency, Screen WM, and the regional development agency, Advantage West Midland (AWM), singling them out for special investment and support.
But the sector – which spans the worlds of media, digital marketing, music, video games and film – is likely to face a very different post-election reality, and is particularly vulnerable given the large sums of public money currently channelled into it and the imperative on both sides of the political divide to make cutbacks.
Even without a change of government, regional screen agencies like Screen WM, whose remit is to support film and digital media in the region, look set to face a curtailed budget in 2010.
The agency receives £800,000 a year from the UK Film Council as well as holding the contracts from AWM to invest about £9 million over a three-year period through its various funds to support film and digital media.
But the UK Film Council needs to find savings of £25 million over the next three years to help pay for the 2012 Olympic Games and has just finished a consultation on its funding priorities, meaning 20 per cent could be wiped off Screen WM’s Film Council funding from as early as April this year.
But Screen WM chief executive Suzie Norton said the agency had been busy trying to shape the outcome of the consultation.
“We are investing our energies into lobbying the Film Council to ensure we get the best result for the West Midlands,” she said.
On the other hand, there may be some small mercies for regional film – the Film Council has proposed introducing a minimum 25 per cent target for non-London originated film production.
But the biggest question mark hangs over Screen WM’s AWM-funded contracts in the light of the Conservatives’ vow to shake up regional development agencies.
There has been considerable confusion over these proposals, with indications the Tories are backing away from their original plans to scrap them.
Recently Shadow Business Secretary Ken Clarke admitted the party’s policy in the area was not clear and David Cameron has suggested that some RDAs could be slimmed down - none of which helps to foster any sense of security for those in the creative sector here in the West Midlands.
But if the Tories do take power, the existing structure of delivering support via regional screen agencies is likely to be safe and could even be expanded. Ed Vaizey, Shadow Culture Minister, last year said he expected the screen agencies to evolve and take on wider roles.
Aside from screen agencies, there are other support mechanisms which will still be in place whatever the outcome of the election.
Thomas Dillon, chairman of the Creative Advantage Fund, is sitting on a pot worth £1 million which he wants to invest in local businesses based on the exploitation of intellectual property.
The fund, backed by Birmingham City Council, Advantage West Midlands and the Arts Council England, takes equity stakes in local business – and the cash it has is protected, earned from the previous incarnation of the fund which made successful exits from local TV firms Maverick and Hotbed.
But Mr Dillon warned now was a difficult time for anybody in the creative industries who has so far relied on public money.
“Almost everybody in the arts is going to suffer from a grants income perspective whichever government gets in because of the Olympic Games,” he said. “Then you have the recession on top, so I think that organisations are in for a very thin time in the creative sector.
“This will mean that there is a premium on entrepreneurship and those parts of the creative industries which can be commercial are going to have to be commercial,” he said.
Mr Dillon singled out the interactive games industry as one part of the creative sector that he thought might yield some potential investee companies for the fund.
“The interactive games industry is clearly a good prospect and one where we have a certain regional capacity,” he said.
In fact the region’s gaming industry may be feeling a tad more hopeful if the next government is Conservative as the party has thrown its weight behind initiatives to better assist companies like Warwickshire firms Codemasters and Blitz Games Studios.
Mr Vaizey has signalled that the Conservatives would look at allowing the UK games sector to join forces with the film industry to gain more clout by broadening the remit of the UK Film Council to include video games.
And although Labour last year consulted on the introduction of tax relief for the sector, which industry lobbyists claim will prevent it declining by five per cent a year, movement stalled after the Chancellor made no announcement on the subject in his Pre-Budget Report.
The Conservatives on the other hand have said they agree with the proposals designed to put the industry on a level footing with other countries around the world, hinting that a merger of video games within the UK Film Council might see it enjoy the same breaks as the film industry.