Tom Watson
Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture,Media and Sport and Labour MP for West Bromwich East

It was under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown that Labour became active partners in promoting the UK film industry at home and abroad. I am determined that the current Labour culture team will continue that tradition.

It is now 123 years since “the first successful motion picture film made in Britain” was released. Incident at Clovelly Cottage was shot in 1895 by Birt Acres and Robert Paul. It was filmed outside Acres’ home in Chipping Barnet and although all but a few frames of the original film is lost, we do know the film starred a woman pushing a pram and a man in white.
We have come a long way since those first Britons experimented with new cameras that captured motion pictures which could be viewed by just one person at a time through a peephole. The year 1936 was the most prolific one for the industry, with 192 films produced and the opening of Pinewood Studios. Although the 1940s saw the number of films produced drop considerably, this decade is often called the “golden age” where British directors made some of their most famous work, such as David Lean’s Brief Encounter and Carol Reed’s film noir classic The Third Man. The second half of the twentieth-century gave birth to more iconic British films – from The Italian Job to Chariots of Fire to Train Spotting and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Fast forward to the present and British film is incredibly strong. It contributed £7.7 billion to the UK economy in 2016, employing around 80,000 people, and in 2017 films passing the BFI’s cultural test grossed $8.1 billion at the global box office, taking 21 per cent of the market share. The industry is also developing new strengths all the time. When the first Harry Potter film was being made in 2000, less than 15 per cent of the visual effects work was done here in the UK. By the time the last Harry Potter film was made, the visual effects industry in the UK had grown so much that 85 per cent of the film’s visual effects were done here.
Labour is committed to ensuring that that success continues. And we believe there are three key areas which need to be focussed on: investment, education, and access to talent.
Fuelling the enormous recent growth in the film industry is the film tax credit that was devised during Gordon Brown’s premiership. It is that tax relief and the ‘open for business’ attitude of our national film bodies, studios and workforce that has seen so much inward investment in recent years. Just as we saw the potential of the tax credit 10 years ago, we see how integral it has become and we are totally committed to protecting it.
We also think the tax credit can be used as a force for good within the industry. In Government, Labour would add an “inclusion rider” to the tax credit, ensuring that films receiving it pay due regard to diversity in their cast and crew. Although film here is thriving, too often those benefitting are from a narrow set of backgrounds. Just 4.4 per cent of people working in the industry are from BAME backgrounds and just 0.3 per cent have a disability. Building in diversity as a key criteria for receiving the tax relief will force film companies to address this and seek diverse talent for their productions.
Inclusion is going to be even more important as the industry grows and demand for skilled workers increases. There is already a skills gap, with an estimated 40 different types of film jobs desperately in need of more skilled workers. Labour is committed to running a creative careers campaign across schools so that pupils understand the opportunities and the skills they will need, and we want to expand apprenticeship and trainee schemes to facilitate direct routes into the industry.
In addition to home-grown talent, film is an international business that thrives off cross-cultural working and often requires filming in multiple countries. Skilled workers from across the European Union and the rest of the world play a vital part in UK film and we need a Brexit deal that protects the industry’s ability to attract international talent. Crashing out with a no deal would be catastrophic. We need a deal that protects access to EU creative funding pots, ensures ongoing access to talent, and the ability to make cross-border productions without excessive bureaucracy at borders.
Things are looking bright for UK film and we are determined to keep it that way. In the words of a series originally American but most recently filmed here in the UK because of the boom in our industry: the force is with UK film. Long may that continue.