The Report of the Joint Committee was launched on 12 July 2018, just a few weeks after the Government published its Audiovisual Action Plan on 27 June 2018. The Report made 11 Specific Conclusions and Recommendations, many of which complement the actions set out in the Audiovisual Action Plan. In May of this year, the Dáil debated a motion regarding the Report wherein I set out the progress in implementing the recommendations of the Report.
Recommendations 1, 3, 5, and 11 have been addressed under revisions to the section 481 tax incentive.
Recommendation 1 sets out that “section 481 is a key and central component within the Irish Film Industry. This fact is accepted by the vast majority of the industry’s stakeholders. Section 481 will remain central in the industry into the future”. Changes were made to section 481 in the Finance Act 2018, designed to reduce the time required to decide on applications for the relief. Previously, applications were made directly to Revenue. Now, a producer company applies directly to the Department for a certificate stating that the film is to be treated as a qualifying film for the purpose of section 481. The Finance Act 2018 also made provision for the extension of section 481 tax relief beyond its 2020 deadline to 2024. It also provided for an additional measure, the Regional Film Development Uplift which is a short-term, tapered regional film development uplift commencing at 5%, for films made in an area designated as an assisted region under the State aid regional guidelines. The regional uplift will be phased out on a tiered basis with 5% available in respect of claims made on or before 31 December 2020, 3% in respect of claims made on or before 31 December 2021, 2% in respect of claims made on or before 31 December 2022, and reducing to 0% from year 2023 on. The consent of the European Commission to both these state aid measures has now been received and Regulations and a Commencement Order introduced in July 2019 gave effect to these measures.
Recommendation 3 saw the committee seek “the reform of training in the sector to ensure that all training has a recognised qualification where possible, has a beginning and an end, and that trainees are not forced to repeat specific training”. The Committee proposed that “there be a wider geographical spread of training courses, the introduction of formal apprenticeships and additional finance to improve this training and development.” The Regional Uplift measure outlined above is designed to support the geographic spread of the audio-visual sector and ensure a spread of production activity beyond the current traditional production hubs in Ireland by incentivising the training and development of new, local pools of talent in the film sector in areas outside the current main production hubs. In the matter of the training requirements of Section 481, changes targeted at improving outcomes have recently been effected and there is now a strong focus on skills development that is linked to quality, and a more expansive range of skills development at all levels, including hard skills, soft skills, future skills, technical skills and leadership skills. As part of these revised requirements, films with eligible expenditure of over €2 million must have their Skills Development Plans agreed in advance with Screen Ireland. The plans developed by Screen Ireland require applicants to consider carefully the skills needs of the production, the company, the participant and the sector as a whole and to reflect on how the planned activity will address skills needs across different levels and different departments of the production from new entrants, trainees and crew to above the line talent and company leaders. This is designed to move away from a system where individuals are labelled as trainees and go some way towards addressing the concerns that the Committee flagged. In addition, there is considerable work going on in relation to training. Last November, Screen Skills Ireland, the training and skills development division of Screen Ireland held an Education Forum for the audio visual industry, bringing together Screen industry stakeholders, education and trading providers and policy influencers to focus in the skills development challenges and opportunities. This forum was a success and will be repeated in early November this year. In terms of accredited courses, Screen Ireland has submitted two Level 9 courses (Creative Leadership and Advanced Producers) to be developed and certified through Springboard+. These courses are in direct response to one of the recommendations in the Olsberg Report that new business skills courses be generated, specifically focusing on the needs of creative sector companies. Screen Ireland is also developing a certified Level 8 Apprenticeship programme, for the role of CGI Technical Artist, in the animation and related sectors. A network of Regional Skills Fora was created as part of the Government’s National Skills Strategy and provides an opportunity for employers and the education and training system to work together to meet the emerging skills needs of their regions. Regional skills, in conjunction with SOLAS (The Further Education and Training Authority) has introduced a skills initiative “Skills for Growth” which is designed to make it easier for employers to identity their skill needs and receive guidance on which education and training providers are best suited to their requirements. Skillnet Ireland, the national agency for the promotion and facilitation of workforce learning in Ireland currently has 23 programmes planned for 2019 that are of relevance to workers in the film industry. These programmes include courses in Business Skills, Leadership and Project management through Animation Skillnet; Design Enterprise Skillnet; Greasán Na Meán Skillnet; and Screen Skillnet.
Recommendation 5 outlined that an “international comparative study should be constituted to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the Section 481 tax credit”. Since the publication of the Report, as part of its work for the Finance Bill 2018, the Department of Finance published its review of the section titled ‘Review IV: Cost Benefit Analysis of Section 481 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 – Film Corporation Tax Credit’. This analysis was the catalyst for the administrative changes to the section 481 application process. I understand that the Department of Finance will conduct a further review in 2020.
Recommendation 11 called for “Public funding and adherence to employment standards” to be linked. The Film Regulations 2019, introduced to give effect to changes in the section 481 procedures include a signed undertaking in respect of quality employment which requires both the producer company and the qualifying company to comply with all obligations in the field of environmental, social and employment law. The producer company and the qualifying company must be responsible for compliance with all statutory requirements of an employer, have in place written policies and procedures in on Grievances, Discipline and Dignity at work (including harassment, bullying and equal opportunity). The companies are also required to provide details of any Work Place Relations Commission decisions aligned with confirmation that any findings against the companies have been followed or an explanation where the finding has not been followed. This also addresses Recommendation 2 of the Report which expressed concerns with regard to working terms and conditions. While matters relating to collective bargaining rights of freelance workers do not fall directly under my remit, my Department has used the opportunities presented by the changes made to the section 481 procedures to improve conditions in the industry particularly in relation to training and commitments undertaken by producer companies. Recommendation 8 also deals with working conditions and more particularly, calls for state support for “the precarious existence of actors and sustainable pension structures for workers within the Irish film industry”. This comes within the remit of the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, who passed legislation in the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2018 in December 2018 which addresses insecurity and unpredictability of working hours for employees on insecure contracts and those working variable hours. In July this year, I was pleased to join my colleague and Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty TD, in announcing the extension of the Social Welfare Scheme for Self-Employed Artists to the wider Creative Community. This means that from this month on, self-employed artists in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance for the first year that they are out of work will be able to focus on their artistic work and developing their portfolio, rather than having to participate in the normal labour market activation activities. Artists eligible to apply to the scheme include actors, theatre and film directors, dancers, opera singers, set, costume and lighting designers, musicians, composers, choreographers, architects and street performers
Recommendation 6 called for workers within the craft grades of the industry to have representatives nominated to the Irish Film Board to feed in their perspectives and needs into the industry’s development. However, as I set out in May, under the provisions of the Irish Film Board Acts 1980 to 2018, the Board of Screen Ireland as it is now known is not a representative board in the sense of comprising representatives from the various industry sectors: Section 12 of the Act provides that 7 members shall be appointed to the Board by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht with the consent of the Minister for Finance for a period of not more than 4 years. When vacancies arise on the Board, they are advertised by the Pubic Appointments Service (PAS) and are open to applications from anyone who meets the requirements as set out by PAS. The next vacancies will arise in March 2020.
Recommendation 9 sought for the further integration of the film industry on a north/south basis with the creation of formal north/south structures, development plans and investment. While Screen Ireland is in competition with Northern Ireland Screen in its efforts to attract inward production into the Republic of Ireland, it also regularly cooperates with Northern Ireland Screen in efforts to attract inward production to the island of Ireland. Earlier this year, Screen Ireland announced that, in conjunction with Northern Ireland Screen, it had teamed up with an international sales and film finance company Bankside Films on a joint venture that intends to produce, and fully fund, up to two feature films per year. It targets projects with a budget of up to €1.5 million and creative teams on each project will come from both the north and south.
Recommendation 4 saw the Committee call on the Irish Film Board to constitute the Board’s Film Forum, with an independent Chair, in order to allow all stakeholders within the sector to meet and work together to develop mutually beneficial solutions for the industry while Recommendation 10 called on the unions and the representative organisations to work towards a mutually beneficial and respectful understanding. As I set out in May, despite efforts made by Screen Ireland, last Autumn, it did not prove possible to constitute a forum of all stakeholders that would adopt a collaborative approach as suggested by the Report. Instead, it seemed that the forum would simply comprise of the airing of disputes and grievances which are more properly dealt with by the State through other mechanisms such as the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC). In recent days, the WRC has announced its intention to conduct an audit of the Republic of Ireland Independent Film and Television Drama Production Sector with a view to examining industrial relations generally, employment practices and procedure, assessing issues arising (if any), and making recommendations for their improvement where appropriate. The WRC invites submissions by 31 October 2019 and it is hoped that this audit will provide an appropriate mechanism to progress matters raised in Recommendation 4 and Recommendation 10. In addition, my Department will continue to work through the Audiovisual High Level Steering Group to address issues raised in the audiovisual industry, and to support the industry and the people who work in it.