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Scottish Screen a Review by the Scottish Executive

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SCOTTISH SCREEN - A Review by the Scottish Executive

5 SCOTTISH SCREEN - ASSESSING ITS IMPACT

73. This chapter assesses the impact of Scottish Screen. It sets out some key factors in the recent progress of the screen industry in Scotland and summarises the views of those interviewed in the course of the review on aspects of Scottish Screen and the conduct of its role. It also summarises the conclusions of the independent study 'The Aims and Objectives of Scottish Screen and Assessing its Impact in Achieving Them' Stewart Black and Kathleen Benham April 2002.

74. Annex B reports on the most significant trends in the Scottish film and screen industry. It notes:

  • A gradual rise in the level of feature film production in Scotland over the last 10 years.

  • Scottish feature films regularly attract critical success, box office success has been more elusive and problems of distribution are significant.

  • Production for TV has formed the basis for the substantial growth and viability of some production companies who have subsequently added feature film production to their activity.

  • Increase in short film schemes.

  • Increased location spend in Scotland although the average spend per production fell reflecting the fact that smaller budget films have been filming in more recent years.

  • Scotland is estimated to have 165 businesses in film with approximately 5500 jobs.
    Of these, however, the significant majority are small one- or two-person companies with turnover less than 10,000. They cannot be said to constitute an industry.

  • Increases in cinema attendances generally in Scotland have been significant but have lagged behind the rest of the UK, although attendances at RFTs have increased relative to UK.

  • There is great potential in digital technology to reduce production costs and improve distribution.

75. In many respects this is evidence of solid achievement. It may, however, be significantly less than might have been expected or hoped for when Scottish Screen was established (which followed some significant successes at the box office), and with the significant additional resource made available to film through the lottery. In addition during Scottish Screen's existence there have been other major developments which have contributed to the developing context of screen production in the UK, most significantly changes in the tax regime and in regional production policies of broadcasters.

76. It is also less than wholly clear the extent to which Scottish Screen itself has contributed to what positive trends there have been, or been able to maximise them or at least mitigate the impacts of adverse trends. There is therefore a constant concern in assessing Scottish Screen as to the realism of expectations for the Scottish film industry, and its position within the UK sector. Commercial success may continue to prove unpredictable if not elusive and may be difficult to reconcile with the concern for cultural quality and significance.

77. Hollywood is not a meaningful benchmark. Comparators with smaller European production centres are more relevant.

SCOTTISH SCREEN'S CLIENTS

78. These general trends provide a background to consider the views of Scottish Screen's clients and the production community. 39 interviews were carried out with a range of Scottish Screen clients, partners and stakeholders listed at Annex C. Discussions were wide ranging and touched on the full remit of the study and therefore included views on the future needs and prospects of the screen industries in Scotland and the approach to support from the public sector. Specific views were invited on aspects of Scottish Screen in three main areas and these are summarised below.

ON THE CONCEPT OF A DEDICATED SCREEN AGENCY FOR SCOTLAND

79. The majority view was that a national screen agency was necessary. Interviewees said that the screen arts do not constitute a single artform, but are a complex amalgamation of a range of artforms and crafts: i.e. writing, visual arts, design, performance arts of all kinds, music creation, new media arts, and so on. These are necessarily supported by an equally complex range of craft and technical skills, by fast-changing technology, by an industrial infrastructure of ancillary services, by large relatively high-risk development and production costs, and by knowledge of global markets.

80. A National Screen agency was seen as a strong demonstration of the high cultural profile and industrial/commercial potential of screen production to Scotland and the Government's support and belief in the industry. While there was some recognition that support could be channelled through other agencies, interviewees did not think that at present other existing agencies could effectively straddle the essential cultural/industrial nature of the screen.

81. A national screen agency should exercise dynamic leadership in formulating policy and ensure that support is properly helpful to the people at the front end. This requires direct and focused experience of the cultural/creative/commercial environments of screen production.

82. A national screen agency should be in a position to understand the Scotland-wide picture. Development of production facilities and commercial infrastructure for film and TV production are principally centred on Glasgow because of the presence of the main broadcasters and the well developed supply chain serving them. However, access for people across Scotland to participate in the screen arts, whether through routes to employment in the industry, as participants in screen education, or as informed audiences, is an important factor in the long-term development of a vibrant national industry. A national screen agency has a role to play in ensuring that access to support and opportunity is Scotland-wide.

83. As a national agency a strong signal is given in marketing and other international contexts e.g. selling indigenous films into global markets and attracting production to Scotland.

OF SCOTTISH SCREEN IN PARTICULAR:

84. There was recognition from some independent producers that many specific film projects would not have got off the ground without the support provided by Scottish Screen.

85. While there are specific criticisms of aspects of performance there is a sense that Scottish Screen, having begun to put an extended period of internal difficulties behind it, should be given a chance to mature. The concept that created it is still widely seen as valid but as yet not fully realised. The challenge of ensuring that staff from the pre-existing organisations have the skills matched to Scottish Screen's new objectives and of overcoming bureaucratic inertia and lack of dynamism have been significant.

86. There is considerable interest in the idea of developing a more explicit set of policies which would support a development strategy for the cultural/creative industries and changes in the functions and structure of agencies who have a part to play in that strategy. However, there is also a concern that premature change without properly worked out alternatives would be disruptive of progress that is now being made.

VIEWS OF SCOTTISH SCREEN'S PERFORMANCE

87. While most interviewees spoke positively of Scottish Screen, some specific criticisms were expressed of aspects of performance, of governance, and of strategic development. These included significant references to quality of communication and response. Some of this was related to concerns that the CEOs position embodied conflicting roles at strategic and operational level.

88. The balance of strengths, expertise, and interests at Board level, where the broadcasters are currently the most significant presence, was also seen as a cause for concern. There is also a perception of Scottish Screen as having a view dominated by Glasgow interests.

89. There were some issues raised about respective organisational remits in relation to partnership working with Skillset, PACT, and new media initiatives. These seem largely to be issues of communication and detail at the borders of Scottish Screen's interaction with these other organisations, rather than fundamental conflicts of role. A clearer definition of goals as suggested by the independent study could resolve many of these issues. Scottish Enterprise is involved with Skillset in the development of the Sector Workforce Development Plan.

90. Some interviewees noted with disappointment the lack of strategy for contributing to the development of wider access, to participation, to training, to information and advice, to clear signposting, to geographic, cultural and social diversity.

AN INDEPENDENT VIEW

91. The views of interviewees are complemented and borne out in the independent review commissioned by the Scottish Executive of the effectiveness of Scottish Screen as an organisation and of its main programmes.

92. The principal conclusions are:

  • context: Scottish Screen is a young organisation; there has been recent internal stress; staff wish to improve arrangements for assessment of effectiveness;

  • role of Scottish Screen: specification of the roles of Scottish Screen by the Executive, and by Scottish Screen itself, is unclear;

  • perceptions by partner bodies: perceptions of Scottish Screen's actual role vary;

  • policy: weak specification and linkages between the Executive's policies are insufficiently clear to permit establishment of authoritative 'goal' benchmarks against which to assess the effectiveness of Scottish Screen;

  • organisation-wide and programme-level impact assessment: Scottish Screen's own systems are under-developed at both levels. While the agency and its programmes address the aims and objectives set out in its management agreement with the Scottish Executive, the agency does not have a systematic evidence base which allows it to assess the extent to which it does so at either organisation or programme level. Consequently, the study was unable to form a definitive view of Scottish Screen. It does, however, make initial suggestions for improvement at both levels;

  • organisation-wide and programme-level reporting of effectiveness: The second major focus of the investigation were the systems for reviewing and reporting performance. These are equally under developed. Review of effectiveness is overshadowed by planning (which itself is under-quantified). Internal reporting is weak, and external reporting - not only to the Executive, but more generally - is particularly poor; and

  • in relation to the wider context of the creative industries: The issues highlighted relating to measuring and reporting effectiveness, the differing perceptions of the role of Scottish Screen, and the need for clearer links into the Executive's policy all appear to require to be addressed, regardless of the possibility of any structural change/re-allocation of screen industry responsibilities following the wider review in the context of the creative industries as a whole.

93. The independent consultants highlighted a commitment among Scottish Screen staff to improve current performance measures, and noted that it is not an aberrant NDPB in terms of its development of measures of performance and how those measures are used and reported. The review creates an opportunity to address these problems and specific recommendation is made that arrangements for improvement of performance management are put into place immediately.

94. The study further refers to some performance management difficulties created as a result of internal change. It has needed some time to re-establish its position. This is highlighted by the arrangement at the time of writing that the Chief Executive of Scottish Screen was also the head of arguably the most important (in financial and other terms) department, Production and Development. This arrangement had a number of disadvantages, which were evident in the investigation. This is an issue which has been raised by participants in the wider review process on a number of occasions. It is, however, currently being addressed and Scottish Screen are seeking to appoint a Head of Production.

THE BOARD AND ISSUES OF GOVERNANCE

95. The study also noted that the role of the Board is underdeveloped in relation to its management of the agency's effectiveness. To an extent this reflects some of the troubled history of Scottish Screen's early years and the lack of stability. A period of stability will allow the Board to take hold of its role and provide a proper supportive and strategic framework for the staff.

96. It is important that the Board reflects experience and skills across the range of Scottish Screen's functions. However the existence of that experience and skills are not a substitute for a proper level of expertise in the permanent staff of the organisation. The Board's purpose must be to give strategic direction and to oversee the accountability of the organisation not to undertake the detailed planning or operations. The Board may wish to consider a skills audit of the organisation.

97. Related to the issue of governance is the issue of transparency. The Scottish film making community is a closely-knit one. One of the criticisms levelled by many consultees at current arrangements for support to film making and film culture in Scotland is that its effects are overly concentrated on a central belt, and particularly Glasgow-based, view of development.

98. This is a very difficult criticism for a public body to address in an apparently small community of interest. The recognised expertise of film-makers and other industry professionals is needed to inform decisions made about support to other film-makers. This is difficult in itself in a small pool of expertise and attention has demonstrably been given by Scottish Screen to ensuring that bureaucratic procedures for funding decisions are as transparent as they can be made, and to identify and eliminate potential conflicts of interest within the present set of arrangements. There is a need to actively work towards and maintain diversity of background among panel members and others who make decisions about which scripts or projects to support. Ministers also need to keep the balance of the Board under review as they make new appointments.

CONCLUSION

99. The views of interviewees were in general positive and reflected a high level of expectation of Scottish Screen. There is general support for the agency but a recognition that it is not perfect and that teething troubles may have limited its effectiveness. There is no wish to see Scottish Screen cease to exist or its functions transferred elsewhere. Concerns expressed are mainly about focus, the transparency and visibility of underlying strategies and aspects of communication. The more systematic study also identified concerns in these areas and pointed up the lack of quality performance information.

100. This report has already recommended the revision of the management statement so that it provides a basis for the development of performance indicators and the findings of this study must be addressed by Scottish Screen as a matter of urgency and in that context.

101. The issues raised by the independent study in relation to the role of the Board and its overall governance must also be addressed.