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Fin Kennedy on Parliamentary lobbying and the English Baccalaureate
The following article first appeared on my own blog over at www.finkennedy.blogspot.com. I’m pleased to have been asked to reproduce it here. The piece came about as a result of my own musings after having attended on behalf of the Guild a reception for MPs and Ministers, hosted by the Performers' Alliance Parliamentary Group, at the House of Commons on 9 November. Many other Guild members will have attended too, and some of you may be regulars at these events, but it was my first time. My involvement unexpectedly turned into a bit of a personal crusade and letter-writing campaign! Read on to find out why.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@finkennedy) may recall that I recently sought my followers advice for questions they would like me to ask MPs and Ministers when I attended the Performers' Alliance Parliamentary Group reception at the House of Commons earlier this month.
The Performers' Parliamentary Alliance is a lobbying group jointly set up and run by Equity, The Musicians' Union and The Writers' Guild. I recently rejoined the Guild after a bit of a gap and was promptly recruited to the Theatre Committee, and hence also this event, on their behalf. Ostensibly it was to promote the Lost Arts website, launched by David Edgar a few months ago, but once you’re there you can nobble any of the MPs about whatever you like. The Guild forwarded me an interesting document in advance of the event, which contained various issues of concern. One in particular featured a note from the artistic director of a young people’s theatre company, which stated:
'The most alarming thing that is happening is the current government's moving from a point of view that access to the arts for young people is an entitlement and a right, towards it being considered a privilege and a reward for good behaviour … If this change in attitude is not addressed schools will just not programme in Young People's Theatre, or other art forms for that matter. The companies who survive this drop in audiences - and the numbers are very high for schools performances - will be thrown back on doing truncated Shakespeare and adapted set texts. All the new writing will go and the original play for young audiences will disappear … Aside from the affect on young people and the theatre companies who work to produce relevant and challenging theatre for them [which also incidentally supports the curriculum in many areas], there will be a significant loss of new writing commissions for writers, currently estimated at 30 original new plays per annum … the choice of subjects to be contained in the English Baccalaureate underlines this change in attitude.'
Like me, you may have heard about the English Baccalaureate but not really know what it is. Well, you’ve come to the right place. I did some further research, particularly among my schools contacts who are really upset about it. And rightly so, because it turns out the EBacc is really quite underhand and devious.
The Writers' Guild has submitted a response (pdf) to the European Commission’s Green Paper: On the online distribution of audiovisual works in the European Union: Opportunities and challenges towards a digital single market.
The winners of the 2011 Writers' Guild of Great Britain Awards were announced on 16 November
Best Continuing Drama
Casualty: Place of Safety - Dana Fainaru
You are warmly invited to the third monthly meeting for Writers in Cornwall. The King’s Arms, Function Room, 3 Broad Street, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 8JL
Thursday 10th November 2011 at 19:00pm - open to all writers (including non-Guild members)
James Henry will be chatting about his ten years of professional screenwriting, ranging through writing for kids telly (Bob The Builder, Shaun The Sheep), comedy (Smack The Pony, Green Wing, Campus) and current drama projects and feature scripts.
Plus… The opportunity to talk about your projects and ideas with peers and the chance for networking.
Make the most of being a member of the Writers’ Guild!
Major changes will result from 'Delivering Quality First'
Mark Thompson, the Director General of the BBC, has announced plans for job losses and changed programming priorities in order to cut 20% from the Corporation's budget over the next five years. No TV channels or radio stations will close but the way many of them operate will change. A summary of the plans, headed Delivering Quality First, have been published on the BBC website.
Responding to the announcement, Writers' Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett said:
'Along with the other entertainment unions I have a meeting with Director-General Mark Thompson later today, at which I hope we will learn rather more detail that the BBC has put on its website.
'The first thing to say is that Thompson should never have made the secret deal with the incoming government to freeze the licence fee for an absurd six years – he should have forced the issue into public debate, not capitulate in secret over a single weekend.
'But we are where we are, and the broad outlines of the strategy seem to make the best of a bad situation for writers and others involved in creating original new programming. We welcome reports in the papers this morning that BBC4 and Radio 4 will be protected, and hope they are true. We would like confirmation that the BBC regards scripted drama and comedy as core material that cannot and should not suffer any more – compared with most other countries we are fortunate to have such a strong home-grown industry and we would regret it deeply if we let it go.
'Let us hope that daytime repeats on BBC2 will strongly feature the many neglected jewels in the BBC’s drama archive – we have renegotiated our agreements with the BBC, making repeats much cheaper, specifically in order to help this happen. Concentrating the cuts on glossy light entertainment, quizzes and panel shows, and overpriced sports rights is sad for many performers and viewers, but is more bearable as other broadcasters can supply this kind of material.
'Using BBC3 and BBC4 as “feeders” for the main network channels, if handled courageously and imaginatively, could create opportunities for new waves of writers and performers.
'But these are crumbs of comfort, and this is a dismal day for thousands of skilled, hard-working and loyal BBC staff who are being dumped on the scrap-heap. For the UK to continually diminish the BBC is a self-inflicted wound, pointlessly damaging one of our last truly world-leading institutions. We need to stop this self-harm, reopen the licence-fee debate, and if we still need to save money we should close the World Service, now just a rolling news station, and instead make the BBC’s domestic riches available online worldwide; tell our spy agencies that if they want global broadcasting monitored they can do it themselves at their own expense; give the Welsh Assembly the power and the central funding to run a truly independent S4C; and end the self-censoring, safety-first, offend-no-one atmosphere that continues to stifle creativity in our most important cultural and entertainment service.'
The proposals from Mark Thompson and the BBC management come under the heading of Delivering Quality First, and the BBC Trust has opened a public consultation on them that will run until 21 December 2011.
Update: A further statement from Bernie Corbett
The entertainment unions’ meeting with Mark Thompson this afternoon was a predictably angry encounter, justifiably dominated by questioning from the technicians’ union BECTU and the journalists of the NUJ about mass redundancies, forced transfers to Salford, much reduced terms for new joiners and attacks on established benefits.
It was not the best occasion for forensic questioning about the slimming-down of public-facing services, which will be open to consultation until Christmas. Future meetings have been promised to cover those areas.
But further examination of the detailed proposals raises more questions than answers. There seem to be significant cuts in radio commissioning – comedy on R2 and R5 Live, new material for R4 Extra – and a suggestion that although Radio 4 has its budget preserved, drama may suffer more there as well. And what has happened to the guarantee of continued Asian-themed drama, now that the Asian Network is to be drastically cut?
BBC2 is promised more drama, but is this entirely at the expense of BBC4? Why does the list of repeats for daytime BBC2 pointedly fail to mention drama and comedy? Why is the report so reticent about plans for putting the BBC back catalogue online? We have been waiting more than two years for detailed plans, and still the silence is deafening. What on earth are the reductions promised to “outreach activity”? And is the new commitment to “four screens” – TV, tablet, mobile and PC – code for making more uses of programmes without more payments?
The Writers’ Guild will be taking up these issues and others with the BBC over coming weeks, and reporting back to our members on the answers we are given.