The UK government has recently released its Autumn Statement, which aims to address industry concerns surrounding new tax credits. However, critics argue that the government has failed to raise relief for the independent film sector. The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, responded to complaints from major industry players such as Warner Bros. Discovery, Paramount, and Pinewood by dismissing planned restrictions on tax credit relief for “commercial party transactions.” Additionally, the government addressed concerns relating to documentaries qualifying for the credit. Hunt also announced a consultation to potentially expand tax relief to cover visual effects (VFX).
Introduced over a decade ago, the UK’s film and high-end TV tax credit has been highly successful. Hunt simplified the relief eight months ago by announcing a new Audio-Visual Expenditure Credit, which will go into effect next year. This credit brings together multiple different credits and enhances the relief from a 25% rebate to a 34% credit, representing a 0.5% real-terms increase. Leading industry players and studios have largely welcomed this relief, as it was evident in submissions to a recent government inquiry into high-end TV and film.
However, concerns arose when it was suggested that relief on “connected party” profits would be capped, potentially causing production companies to lose money when utilizing third-party suppliers in areas such as VFX. Production companies expressed these concerns in their submissions to the government. Fortunately, the UK government has responded to these concerns by now requiring companies to disclose connected party transactions and charge them at an arm’s length price, rather than placing a cap on profits.
Defining Documentaries for Tax Relief
The UK government also addressed concerns regarding which documentaries qualify for the tax relief. In response, they announced plans to define a documentary in alignment with the guidance used by the British Film Institute (BFI). To support the production of film and high-end TV across the UK and embed the new tax credit, the BFI and British Film Commission will receive an additional £2.1 million in funding. As a result, the industry anticipates a surge in production in the UK next year, particularly since the strikes in the United States have been called off.
The UK’s high-end film and TV industries recorded a record-breaking production spend of £6.3 billion ($7.6 billion) in 2022, surpassing the pre-pandemic figure of £1.8 billion in 2019 by £600 million. This accomplishment solidifies the UK’s position as a top global production hub. However, despite the success of the tax credit scheme, industry professionals criticize the government for overlooking the opportunity to address market failures within the independent film sector.
The Missed Opportunity for Independent Films
Trade body Pact expressed disappointment, stating that the government missed an opportunity to remedy market failures in the independent film sector. Pact had offered an increase in tax relief specifically for lower-budget films, suggesting a raise from £1 million to £15 million by 40%. CEO John McVay emphasized that such an increase would stimulate investment, create job opportunities for new talent, and contribute to the wider audiovisual economy. Given that the creative industries are a priority sector for economic growth, McVay urged the government not to overlook the significance of cultivating a culturally and economically important part of the creative industries.
Despite criticism, the BFI applauded the Autumn Statement for introducing measures that would strengthen the UK’s competitiveness as a global hub for audio-visual production. CEO Ben Roberts acknowledged that the enhanced credits and additional funding for the BFI Certification Unit and British Film Commission would continue to support growth and job opportunities in the industry. Roberts also highlighted the importance of digital skills and job opportunities in the workforce, underscoring the government’s consultation on additional tax relief for VFX expenditure through the Audio-Visual Expenditure Credit.
Visual Effects Incentives and Equity’s Concerns
In response to the potential visual effects incentives, the UK Screen Alliance, representing VFX firms, welcomed the government’s efforts to position the UK as the preferred destination for VFX production. However, the Autumn Statement drew criticism from Equity, the actors union. The union’s General Secretary expressed concern over the government’s undermining of public service broadcasters and its pursuit of a culture war against marginalized groups. Equity specifically pointed out the lack of support for the BBC, which has experienced significant real-terms cuts over the past decade, and the impact on the local performing arts sector. The union also criticized the statement’s impact on social security claimants, particularly disabled individuals who have borne the brunt of the government’s economic and tax policies.
The Autumn Statement addressed industry concerns related to tax credits and relieved major players’ fears of lost profits. However, there are valid criticisms regarding the lack of relief for the independent film sector and the treatment of public service broadcasters and marginalized groups. The government’s commitment to maintaining the UK’s position in the global production industry through tax relief and additional funding has received praise, but the missed opportunity to remedy market failures within the independent film sector has been met with disappointment.