U.K. Producers Await Insurance Scheme But It Still Needs E.U. Approval

The U.K.’s film and TV production restart scheme won’t be open to applications until it’s secured State Aid approval from the European Union — a process that’s still ongoing, with no clear end date in sight.

“I was hoping it would be several weeks ago, I hope it’s tomorrow, but I just don’t know,” John McVay, CEO of U.K. producers trade org Pact, told Variety on Thursday.

As the scheme remains in limbo, the European Union Commission is planning legal proceedings against the U.K. for breaching its obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement from the European Union. However, it’s unclear whether that initiative will impact the fund in any way.

The £500 million ($644 million) scheme is designed to help U.K. productions that have been suspended and aren’t able to secure insurance going forward, or are yet to shoot due to lack of insurance but can begin principal photography before the end of the year.

“We pushed for the draft guidelines to be published earlier than perhaps the government wanted to, because we wanted the market to understand what was involved in applying to the fund, how it was structured and what you’d have to pay, so people could plan for that as they were getting production up and running again, or if they were already in production, what they’d have to start doing in order to collect the evidence required to be eligible for the fund.” said McVay.

“We’re pressing hard for more information to come out just as soon as government is comfortable to do that. I would have issued all of this much earlier, but I’m not government,” he continued.

Plans for the fund — proposals for which were first revealed by Variety in May — were officially announced in late July. Terms of the scheme were unveiled by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in late September. However, eager producers keen for reassurance around coverage of their projects are still waiting to even apply to the scheme.

“When [Pact] announced the fund, it felt like it would immediately help get productions up on their feet because of insurance, and then it felt like a two-month lag in any detail coming through,” complained the CEO of one top TV production company. “I understand the government is preoccupied elsewhere and not worrying about our next series being insured, but with that announcement, the detail wasn’t put in place until sort of now-ish, and that’s caught production companies off guard.”

Of course, the program, when it is eventually launched, will be a historic effort by the government. The fund’s £500 million ($644 million) value dwarves that of Canada’s government-backed insurance scheme, which offers only CAD$50 million ($38 million) to the industry.

Because the scheme is funded by taxpayers, however, McVay stressed that “it’s a matter for government.”

“There is a process they have to go through with Brussells to get this over the line,” said McVay, while Pact chair Sara Geater added that there have been weekly meetings between the trade org and the government, and the parties are fully communicating.

Under the scheme, if productions are interrupted or postponed due to COVID-19, 20% of the production budget will be reimbursed, and if productions are abandoned, 70% of the budget, up to a maximum of £5 million ($6.48 million), will be covered.

For projects with a production budget of £30 million ($38.9 million) or more, the assessment of the commercial viability criteria will be carried out by DCMS and the eligible participant will be required to submit to the DCMS additional documentary evidence demonstrating that each of the relevant requirements has been met.

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