UK: Public Bodies (Reform) Blog 10: The BFI Leads The Way

Last Updated: 6 December 2010
Article by Paul Thompson

This is entry No.10, first published on 6 December, of a blog on Public Bodies Reform. Click here to view the whole blog. If you would like to be notified when the blog is updated, with links sent by email, click here.

No doubt others affected by the reform of public bodies are paddling as hard underwater but it does look as if the film sector is in some ways now in the front row when it comes to moving forward to the brave new world brought on by quango immolation.

The industry appeared to have been caught entirely by surprise when it was announced in the Commons on 26 July and without any prior consultation that the UK Film Council, a non departmental public body funded through and distributing lottery money to the film industry, was to go. Furthermore, what was to take its place, if anything, was then none too clear. But, following widespread dismay, letters of concern from the likes of Clint Eastwood and queries from the Government as to whether the UKFC was using its funding inappropriately to stir up a lobby against the change, events have moved swiftly on and plans now appear to be well advanced for the British Film Institute (BFI) to assume the UKFC's role and to do so by April of next year.

As some industry commentators have remarked, this is a remarkable turnaround given that the BFI , which is responsible for the BFI Southbank centre, runs the London Film Festival and looks after the National Film Archive, was itself effectively side-tracked and put under the thrall of the UKFC following that bodies' creation in 2001. Labour had also considered merging the BFI into the UKFC with the BFI in the secondary role. But, now the BFI, under its chairman Greg Dyke, is to regain its place as the lead representative of the film industry.

So what does this all mean for the BFI's governance? Ed Vaizey, the Culture Minister responsible has said : "The BFI will change fundamentally. It will become more open to partnerships with others, more engaged with the nations and the regions, more able to realise an exciting vision of a coherent, joined up film industry. These plans will involve a renewed BFI Board and senior management structure reflecting the BFI's new responsibilities. Current board vacancies will be filled quickly, following an open process run by the BFI." The BFI in some FAQs confirms: "We will be bringing on new Governors who are senior figures in the film industry, we will be introducing committee structures to address the Lottery distribution and we will create a Film Strategy Advisory Board drawn from all sectors of the film industry and including the devolved Nations and English regions."

It also means reform beyond the BFI and the UKFC. It has also been announced that the eight separate Regional Screen Agencies will now re-configure themselves as a single national body, Creative England, chaired by John Newbigin, with three hubs in the north, Midlands and south. These will continue to support new talent and new businesses wherever they are located, building on their intimate knowledge of the cities and regions in which they have been based. They will engage with the industry to ensure that the views of the sector are properly taken into account. Evidently, the BFI is to establish strategic partnerships with Creative England, Film London which will remain outside the Creative England structure, and with the film agencies in the Nations - Creative Scotland, the Film agency for Wales, Northern Ireland Screen - to ensure that public funding - Lottery and where relevant grant-in-aid - continues to support film in the Nations and the regions.

Presumably, the BFI will need to amend its charter and there may be issues to resolve in terms of governmental and parliamentary accountability. Granted a Royal Charter on its 50th anniversary in 1983 (that charter then being amended by scheme of the Charity Commissioners in 2000), the BFI was established in 1933 as a private company and was the subject of an Act of Parliament in 1949 which authorised the Treasury to make grants to it. As with the changes made in 2000, any revision of its charter will need to pass the scrutiny of the Charity Commissioners and approval of the Privy Council.

For more details on:

a) BFI history, see: here
b) the Royal Charter, see here
c) BFI FAQs: here
d) Ed Vaizey speech: here
e) UKFI website: here

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