Film and TV companies from all over the world flock to the UK because of our generous tax credits, world-class facilities and amazing talent – behind as well as in front of the camera. But the simple fact of the matter is we need more – far more – of these skilled people. There aren’t enough of them to meet the surging demand, so we need to train more.
Now, here’s the rub: the screen industry is paying about £20 million a year to the government’s Apprenticeship Levy, so there should be a good pot of money to support the much-needed training. ScreenSkills is a strong supporter of apprenticeships. We have led or supported the development of ten approved and published apprenticeship standards and we are in the process of supporting the development of twelve more. We encourage screen sector employers to take on apprentices. Yet we estimate that only 25% of the £20 million can be used by screen companies – the rest leaks away. Why?
Quite simply, there are far too many restrictions on how the Apprenticeship Levy money can be used. And the whole apprenticeship system is designed with traditional industries in mind (in particular, the permanent contract, 40 hours a week model) which ignores the reality of much of the work in the screen sector – in particular its project-based nature and the high preponderance of freelancers.
To its credit, the government has recognised that there is a problem and it has taken some small steps in the right direction, for example, the new DCMS-funded Film and TV Apprenticeship Pilot. We welcome them –- but we need radical reform, creating a training structure which will truly unlock the potential of the Levy to widen access and invest in unleashing the creative potential and talent of the UK.
As a priority, we are calling on the government to free the Apprenticeship Levy from the current excessive restrictions on how it can be used so that it can support the screen sector to target the key skills gaps and shortages and support much needed diverse range of training interventions for people at all stages of their careers, be they employed or freelance.
A Skills Levy could be transformative, supporting more types of suitable training, including apprenticeships in those areas where they are working well, but also short intensive courses and programmes aimed at targeting under-represented groups and enabling them to progress, retain jobs and be successful.
We have so much to be proud of in UK screen: just think about the TV shows we all watch which are shot right here in the UK from Game of Thrones (filmed in Northern Ireland), to Sex Education (Wales), Outlander (Scotland), Peaky Blinders (Birmingham), Cold Feet (Manchester), Victoria (Yorkshire and County Durham) and Poldark (the West Country). And that’s just the high-end drama.
Brits are not alone in enjoying these programmes – they are viewed around the world, showcasing UK culture and creativity. And it is lucrative too: providing 211,000 jobs and a contribution to the UK economy of at least £14.4 billion last year.
That is why we entirely agree with initiatives to boost skills and training. We just need them to work for all parts of our brilliantly creative industry. So we need the politicians to be bold and creative themselves and find a solution to the current barriers to the Levy funds doing what we all want them to do.