Exclusive: Argonon CEO hits out at UK government for insurance delay

James Burstall

Argonon CEO James Burstall has said that delays in launching the UK’s £500m ($650m) insurance production fund were a “tragic missed opportunity” that cost jobs, adding that the UK government has a “lack of belief” in the country’s creative industries.

Burstall – whose UK- and US-based group includes Masked Singer producer Bandicoot, factual outfit Windfall Films and Worzel Gummidge prodco Leopard Pictures – was heavily involved with government discussions over the new fund unveiled yesterday as part of the UK industry’s working group on insurance, headed up by trade body Pact.

The government-backed Film and TV Production Restart Scheme is designed to help UK producers struggling to get Covid-19 related insurance, but Burstall – who is appearing on the next installment of TBI Talks tomorrow – said it had taken far too long to implement.

“[President] Emmanuel Macron moved many more weeks before us in France because he sees the value of creative industries. Since then, we have seen many of our colleagues [in the UK] go to the wall because of delays and that is tragic,” he told TBI. “There were tragic missed opportunities in not moving earlier.”

Worzel Gummidge

The scheme, which had been in the works for months, is partly designed to stop producers moving shows abroad, a risk that was highlighted by Sheridans lawyer Jeremy Roberts – who was also involved in the discussions – back at the start of June.

Burstall said that the government’s slow response to support producers meant jobs that could have been saved were lost, adding that the delay reflected the Conservative government’s views of the creative sector.

“At government level, there is fundamentally a lack of belief in the creative industries, which is extraordinary,” he added, highlighting government figures released in February that showed that the creative industries sector as a whole brought in £111bn during 2018.

Longer term solution still required

As UK producers dive into the newly released details of the fund, Burstall said he was “cautiously positive” that the scheme was “a step in the right direction”, but added that it had taken “a lot of campaigning” to get the deal done.

He also highlighted that longer term problems remain and said there would be “limits” to the reach of the £500m scheme, which will cover Covid-19 losses up to £5m per show through to the end of June 2021.

The Masked Singer (UK)

“It is a start but it is not going to go far enough in the long term. We need the government to lean on the insurance industry to come up with a workable scheme to properly, 100% cover productions. Until then, we are being hobbled by a lack of proper cover.”

Burstall called on the insurance industry to be “entrepreneurial” in its approach and said the implications of Coronavirus – which he expects to have an impact on the business for at least the next two to three years – meant a more sustainable solution is still required.

He also said the industry had “pulled together” during the crisis, adding that there had been “excellent communication” between broadcasters, producers, lawyers and Pact, with the first protocols launched back in April.

Argonon, which includes UK prodcos Barefaced TV, Like A Shot and BriteSpark Films, as well as Leopard Pictures USA, had also “taken a lot of decisions early” to ensure it could continue through the pandemic, Burstall said.

But he hit out at the government for “fuzzy, mixed” messages and wider “discombobulation” from the Conservatives, “which has not helped us or the wider Great Britain.”

Join Argonon CEO James Burstall and BBC entertainment controller Kate Phillips on tomorrow’s TBI Talks by signing up for free here.

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