U.K. prodco Tiger Aspect is shutting down its programming development departments in both Glasgow and Bristol – the latter was devoted purely to documentary projects – after a financial blow dealt by the recent retraction of the British government’s sale-and-leaseback tax break scheme.
The tax relief program was originally introduced to stimulate the production of domestic film. The repeal of the scheme in April was due to abuse of the setup. Says Tiger’s Charles Brand (who recently switched his title from joint managing director to head of history and features), ‘Certain people in the TV industry, particularly some of the commercial broadcasters and producers in the U.K., started exploiting the scheme and using it for every type of programming. They started banding together large numbers of episodes – soaps, daytime shows – and getting tax relief on them. I think it started to hurt the Treasury, financially.’
The repeal significantly affected Tiger’s bottom line. Says Brand, ‘We’ve calculated that if we do the same amount of business in the upcoming year that we did in the previous year, but with no sale-and-leaseback scheme, we’re looking at a £750,000 (US$1.1 million) loss.’
Brand says the loss of the sale-and-leaseback tax break was not the only reason Tiger decided to cut back; the company also wanted to streamline operations. He explains: ‘The closures are a result of the fact that broadcasters in the U.K. – particularly Channel 4 and the BBC – loudly encouraged producers to open offices outside of London to fulfill governmental regulations dictating geographical quotas. But the reality is that although [broadcasters] are keen to have programs made in places like Bristol, the people who ultimately make the commissioning decisions, except for programs made for local TV, are all in London.’
Although Tiger Aspect will maintain its four-year-old Bristol base for projects in production now and will leave it in service for renewed commissions, the programming development team will be absorbed into the London office. According to Brand, this closure will not affect the company’s total amount of documentary output: ‘We are not reducing the money we’re spending; if anything, we’re increasing spending on the development of programming. We’re making some reductions in support operations and becoming more cautious when it comes to new ventures.’