Friday, July 29, 2011

The Prime Minister and I

A somewhat surreal but interesting day yesterday (Thursday 28th July). On the Wednesday the call came through to Aardman that the ministerial visit that we had been expecting was being upgraded to a Prime Ministerial visit. It was all very hush hush but David Cameron was in town and wanted to pop into to see us. There probably aren’t many Tory voters in the Company and I know there to be a good few Tory naysayers amongst our ranks so it sent a frisson of excitement through the building when it leaked out that he was coming.

I think Aardman is on the ‘100 places to visit while in Government’ and definitely ‘while in Bristol’ - we get a very healthy flow of visitors from Whitehall and Westminster - not just because of Wallace and Gromit - also because David Sproxton, our leader, sits on several boards and committees that get involved in policy and public works.

I have no problem engaging with politicians that I haven’t voted for; as a Lib Dem supporter I have little choice of course and any chance to bend someone’s ear, especially the PM’s, about tax credits for kids TV has to be taken. And of course, blasé though I try to sound, meeting the PM brings out the 12 year old in me. ‘BLIMEY - IT’S THE PRIME MINISTER!’ is what reverberates round your head as you try and maintain an urbane and intelligent demeanor.

I have also met enough ministers now (as previously blogged here and here) to know that, by and large, they don’t get to be ministers by being idiots. Pretty much every one I have met has been bright, lively, able to turn on the charm and, to a greater or lesser extent, charismatic. Actually it would be good to meet a proper idiot just to redress the balance a bit.

And so it is with our Prime Minister. I don’t agree with the approach the Tories are taking to the recession (i.e’ ‘let’s make it worse’) but the man himself was well informed, interested, bright, funny and yes, charismatic.

Our last ministerial visit had been from Ed Vaizey - we had bent his ear about the need for tax credits for kids tv and it was very pleasing to learn that that conversation had been reported back to HQ. Cameron brought it up almost unprompted. He’s worked in TV himself at Carlton and so we were able to have a good conversation about the issues facing the industry.

Briefly; many countries like Ireland, Canada, France, Germany, Belgium, Australia, Hungary and many more provide government support in the form of tax credits and subsidy to TV producers to encourage indigenous production. The UK provides a Tax credit to the British film industry and it has been very successful in attracting inward investment and stimulating employment and growth in the film business and its infrastructure.

We need that tax credit to be extended to kids TV - the BBC is the only substantial UK commissioner of kids programmes and they have budget pressures of their own and we are all worried about supporting kids TV through advertising revenues. Production is migrating overseas at an alarming rate as producers and buyers chase costs reductions. UK producers are going to the wall and in an industry where the UK once ruled (think Bob The Builder and Teletubbies) we are now falling badly behind our subsidised international competitors.

All this we managed to get across in the brief discussions we were able to have. There was a tricky moment for me when PM declared himself a Shaun The Sheep fan (he has 3 kids right in our core Shaun The Sheep age group) and he played our Home Sheep Home browser game and if there was a moment when I nearly tore up my lifetime Libdem membership card that was it.

But just a swiftly as he arrived he was gone - I went round the building thanking the anarchists and revolutionaries for not heckling and flour bombing him and we got back down to the business of earning a crust, selling our wares moaning about politicians.