U.K. Halts Film and TV Production Restart Scheme, Industry Predicts ‘Messy Period’ Ahead

Peaky Blinders
Photo by Viglasky © Caryn Mandabach Productions

The U.K. government has halted its insurance scheme for film and television.

Known as the Film and TV Production Restart Scheme, the £500 million ($657 million) plan was first unveiled in July 2020, was and extended for a further six months in Oct. 2021.

The scheme supported 95,000 jobs and led to a record £5.6 billion production spend, according to the U.K. Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). “Peaky Blinders,” “Killing Eve,” “Gangs of London” and new film “The Phantom of the Open” were among productions supported by the scheme.

“Insurance trade bodies have stepped up work with commercial firms to provide cover to the U.K.’s booming screen industries as the government’s successful Film & TV Production Restart Scheme comes towards its planned closure,” said a DCMS statement. “As the sector emerges from the pandemic, brokers and insurers will now work with the film and TV industry to manage risk so productions can go ahead without the taxpayer needing to step in.”

In the past few weeks, there has been intense lobbying from U.K. film and TV groups to extend the scheme and they met with the DCMS for this, but to no avail. Producers’ body Pact, while lauding the scheme’s success, has expressed disappointment at it not being extended.

“Pact is disappointed that the U.K. Government has not accepted the U.K, broadcasting and production industry’s pleas to extend the Production Restart Scheme and provide a short term transition from the tax payer-backed PRS to a fully operational commercial insurance market,” Pact said in a statement. “Whilst it is true that some commercial insurance companies will underwrite the risk of COVID to U.K. production, this will not yet be at the capacity that is required by the market and does not fulfil the government’s stated ambition of transitioning to a ‘viable commercial insurance’ market at the end of April 2022.”

“Pact members and the wider industry now face a very messy period where some productions will be able to get cover and others will not due to the limited number of insurance providers in the market,” statement said, adding, “It is clear from our own research that there will inevitably be some productions that will not be able to get cover for COVID-related losses and may subsequently not be able to proceed.”

Tim Thornhill, director of entertainment at leading insurance firm Tysers, told Variety, “This was a hugely successful scheme to support the sector provided by DCMS. There is currently no solution from commercial insurers to cover COVID in the U.K. because of the heavy insurance market losses in the last couple of years. When something is available from insurers, it will likely be limited in its capacity and coverage, meaning it may not be available to all that need it.”

“We can only hope that the impact on some areas of the industry is not felt too hard, as insurance is often required to secure financing and investment,” Thornhill added.

Meanwhile, government ministers lauded the scheme’s success.

U.K. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “The Film & TV Production Restart Scheme has played a vital role helping our world-beating screen industries continue to thrive despite the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. As we learn to live with COVID, it is great to see the industry working with production companies to make sure they have the cover they need to create high-quality content for viewers at home and abroad.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said: “Our world-leading film and TV industry supports hundreds of thousands of jobs, and our Restart scheme played a vital part in keeping it going throughout the pandemic. The success of our scheme means that commercial insurers can now work with the industry to provide cover, so the U.K. can keep producing the films and TV programmes we all love.”

Lloyd’s Market Association, British Insurance Brokers’ Association and London & International Insurance Brokers’ Association in a joint statement said: “The insurance industry recognises the success of the Restart Scheme in providing cover to this important sector at a time when the market could not. Brokers, underwriters and their clients are in active discussion with the government as to how the commercial market could resume providing cover for this challenging risk. Our aim, as always, will be to provide insurance solutions to our clients wherever possible.”

In all, the scheme supported 1,172 productions across 1588 locations around the U.K.

The scheme remains open to productions’ applications until Apr. 30, 2022 and will provide cover until the end of June. It has paid out £12 million in claims to date. The DCMS predicts that by the scheme’s closure it will have covered losses totalling an estimated £53 million.