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With the latest Film Council figures showing a 24% drop in production starts last year, there’s a worrying silence from the U.K. government over its plans for a new production tax credit.

This scheme, supposedly worth 20% of the budget for British films under £20 million ($38 million), is intended to replace the Section 48 tax break when it expires in July.

That means the details must be hammered out within the next month or so, in time for inclusion in the finance bill in early March.

But the industry’s so-called Group of Experts (representing the British Screen Advisory Council, producers’ org PACT and the Film Council) has not met with Treasury officials since mid-November, when major issues were left unresolved. Since then, dialogue has been virtually nonexistent.

The group argued the structure put forward by the government would in reality be worth no more than 12.5%, and proposed a complex accounting mechanism to ensure that the credit would deliver the promised 20%.

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The Treasury response, according to several witnesses, was “chilly” and “dismissive.” Instead, in December it launched a clampdown on Section 48, along with an intemperate attack on filmmakers for continuing to “abuse” the system.

In the past couple of weeks, the Treasury has started its fast-track review of Section 42, the tax break for bigger-budget movies, which typically is used by the Hollywood studios. Industry reps are making the case for an enhanced incentive that will continue to attract blockbuster movies to Blighty.

That could involve extending the tax credit to films above $38 million — but no one can fathom where the Treasury now stands on any of these issues. All should be revealed sometime in February, and it’s possible the news will be good — although, as one lawyer says, “That’s not a widely held view.” The timetable is ominously tight, and until then the industry remains in a state of hiatus and anxiety.

And the winner is … screeners

If you’re not sure how important screeners are to the outcome of the British Academy Film Awards, here’s some food for thought.

Of the 85 nominations voted this year by the membership, only five went to films that didn’t send out DVDs.

Those were the adapted screenplay nomination for “Sideways”; the actress nomination for last year’s Oscar winner Charlize Theron in “Monster”; Meryl Streep‘s supporting actress nod for “The Manchurian Candidate”; the foreign-lingo entry for “A Very Long Engagement”; and the special effects nom for “The Day After Tomorrow.”

And that’s it. Nothing for “Million Dollar Baby,” nothing for “Kinsey,” nothing for “Being Julia,” nothing for “The Sea Inside,” nothing for “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.”

None of those films circulated screeners.

It’s entirely possible, of course, that BAFTA members actively decided Annette Bening simply wasn’t as great as Imelda Staunton, Zhang Ziyi, Kate Winslet and Theron. Or that “Sideways” didn’t quite measure up to best film nominees “The Aviator,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Vera Drake,” “Finding Neverland” and “The Motorcycle Diaries.”

Such judgments, when the Brits assert the independence of their taste from Hollywood arbiters, are precisely what give the BAFTAs their unique flavor and significance. But the screener issue clouds that picture.

“Sadly, ‘Million Dollar Baby’ almost certainly didn’t get into our list because not enough of our members saw it,” concedes BAFTA chairman Duncan Kenworthy.

“But something like ‘Sideways’ is a more questionable result. It was seen by enough voters to get through in adapted screenplay, so maybe it’s a sign of different British taste that it didn’t get more nominations.”

That would be a fascinating comparison, if anyone could be sure. But BAFTA actually has the means to resolve this uncertainty – not this year, to be sure, but next year.

The whizzy online system already allows members to create their own “short list” of all the films they might vote for from the 400-plus qualified movies. BAFTA could simply ask its members to place all the films they have actually seen on that short list, and submit that information along with their votes.

It then would be possible to analyze whether any films failed to get through because they hadn’t been widely enough exposed. The question is whether BAFTA really wants to know the answer.