‘Southbankgate?’

bfi-filmforever

The lifetime of the Governors?

 

The Board of Governors for the BFI is supposed to include two members who represent the ordinary users. As regular readers will know there is currently only one representative, and for some of us there is not much sign of representation by him. Action on this is overdue.  In informing interested people the Board appear to follow the well-worn tactic of bureaucracies, stonewalling. Since a fresh election is overdue I have emailed a number of requests to the Board office asking for explanation. There has been a paucity of replies: this might be down to someone having read my earlier postings. However, a colleague has had the same problem, so I don’t think it is just personal.

Now, at last, the Board Secretary has sent me a response: the main information is as shown below:

I refer to your query in relation to any possible arrangements for the election of a Member Governor in 2015.
In September 2014 the DCMS published the results of the first BFI Triennial Review since BFI became the lead public body for film in 2011.   The report was a strong endorsement of the work of the BFI.  It acknowledged the important contribution the BFI makes to supporting and enabling the UK film industry and it recognised the benefits that come from bringing the cultural and commercial expertise for film under one organisation. The Review proposed changes to the process of appointment of the Chairman and Governors.  While the BFI considers the new process of appointment for the Chair and Governors, including the implications for the Royal Charter, the Board in consultation with DCMS, has extended the term of the current Member Governor, Peter Kosminsky, for one year.

This response begs quite a few questions. The Triennial Review actually stated the following:

Governance and Appointments

  1. The BFI Chair is appointed by the Secretary of State and that the appointment is regulated by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments (OCPA).

  2. The BFI Board members are appointed by the Secretary of State and the appointments made in accordance with OCPA principles, to be implemented as vacancies arise on the Board (with the exception of the Member Governor post(s)).

Clearly proceeding with changes stemming from the Review does not necessitate postponing the election of Member Governors. Apart from any prejudices among the Governors and management, there is at least one other possible factor. Revisiting the Review I noticed the following:

5.15 Cabinet Office guidance on good corporate governance recommends a majority of non-executive Board members come from the commercial private sector, with experience in running complex organisations. In the BFI’s case, such expertise would not need to be limited to the creative sector.

As far as I can make out this process of Triennial Reviews was introduced in 2011. So it clearly bears the hallmarks of the current political illusion that ‘commerce’ always knows best. The period of austerity has actually demonstrated that this social group is driven by self-interest than any commitment to wider interests

Moreover this line conflicts with other pronouncements regarding the BFI and its predecessor The Film Council. These would include supporting British independent filmmaking: supporting young filmmakers: supporting diversity: supporting films of aesthetic or documentary value: supporting access to the wider world cinema. Indeed the Review document contains such contradictory statements. The BFI and DCMS review the size and make-up of the Board with a focus on increasing the diversity of the Board through future appointments. They mention women and ethnic minorities. There appears to be no mention of working class representation or audience members. The current Board members listed on the BFI Website are: [note, amount of detail varies for individuals]

Greg Dyke became Chair of the BFI in March 2008. Formerly Director-General of the BBC, Greg is also Chairman of the Football Association and Chancellor of the University of York.

Josh Berger is President and Managing Director, Warner Bros. Entertainment UK, Ireland and Spain.

Pat Butler is a partner at the Resolution Group and an expert in corporate and business strategy, operations and performance improvement.

Charles Cecil is a video game designer and co-founder of Revolution Software. In 2011 he was awarded an MBE for services to the computer games industry.

Alison Cornwell is Group Chief Financial Officer of Vue Entertainment International. She qualified as a chartered accountant in 1990 and spent 5 years in corporate finance before joining Disney’s International TV business. At Disney, In 2005 Alison left Disney to become CFO of private equity backed Sparrowhawk Media which acquired the international assets of Crown Media Holdings. In 2008 Alison was appointed CFO of the international film distribution company, Alliance Films.

Pete Czernin lived and worked in Los Angeles for nearly 10 years for a number of production companies and studios. In 2005 he partnered with Graham Broadbent and set up Blueprint Pictures, a London-based feature film production company.

Ashley Highfield is CEO of Johnston Press. Previously he has held high-level posts at Microsoft and the BBC.

Tom Hooper is an Oscar-winning film director. His features include Les Misérables, The King’s Speech and The Damned United.

Matthew Justice is currently Managing Director of Big Talk, the multi award-winning film and television production company.

Oona King, Baroness King of Bow, is a member of the House of Lords. She is a writer, broadcaster and political campaigner and a Diversity Executive at Channel 4.

Peter Kosminsky is an award-winning writer and director behind some of the most important and revelatory television of the past three decades.

Timothy Richards is the CEO of Vue Entertainment, which boasts over 66 million annual admissions from 1319 screens in 145 state-of-the-art cinemas worldwide.

Jonathan Ross OBE is a mainstay of British television and radio, rarely off the airwaves either as a presenter or as a host of his own distinctive style of celebrity guest interviews.

Lisbeth Savill [Deputy Chair] is a partner in the law firm Latham and Watkin’s London office in the firm’s Entertainment, Sports and Media Practice.

Andrea Wong is President of International Production for Sony Pictures Television (SPT) and President of International for Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE).

One of the least diverse sections of British society is found in the leadership of the commercial sector, as women’s and ethnic groups frequently point out. Moreover by definition when one becomes a leader in commercial enterprise one ceases [if one ever was] to be working class. The list indicates that it is only from the higher end of this sector that appointments are made. So there are no representatives from the Trade Unions or from the UK Film Societies, who actually have a national presence. Senior Managers attend Board Meetings: note though there is no reference to a representative of the BFI staff.

This emphasis follows on from another recommendation:

One of the key recommendations made in this Review is the development of a Business Development Strategy, focused on establishing a new commercial model which will optimise the value of the BFI’s various assets, and identify new ways to increase income from private sources. Once established, this Strategy should help reduce dependency on Grant-in-Aid Department for Culture, Media & Sport.

This seems to me a staging post on the way to privatisation: though this view was roundly criticised at a recent Film Society Federation meeting. But the example in other sectors, including in the arts and culture, suggest that this is part of just such a process.

What makes the situation worse is the apparent inactivity of the current representative. With the honourable exception of Cy Young, these elected representatives have never appeared that interested in representation. Evan so Peter Kosminsky would appear to put his predecessors in the shade. As far as I can make out he has not issued a single report during three years to the people who elected him. He will only accept communications through the Board office. And he does not reply even to these communications: certainly not either to me or to a colleague who I checked with. And I have searched the minutes in vain for some comment by him: only his name in the list of attendees.

A colleague helped by unearthing his statement and manifesto for the 2011 election. In fairness to him it should be admitted that he makes no mention of representation at all.

But I think it is fair comment to point out that in the UK ‘representation’ is normally assumed to being open to the views and comments of those who elect the representative. He did write that

I would do everything in my power to protect the BFI from outside interference and from the erosion of its education and commissioning budgets

Unfortunately he does not seem to have had much success in this. He also wrote re the Regional representative post

As a confirmed non-South-East of England resident, I’m putting myself forward for election as a governor in that category. [i.e. Regional Representative].

I have to say I was surprised to find that him state in an interview that he lives in Wiltshire: not the inference I drew from his statement. Taken together with the listing of other Board members it appears that there is no representation from north of Watford – which includes the Midlands, the North of England, Scotland and Wales!

Unfortunately there seems to be little pressure either on the Board or on the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to rectify this situation. Readers might give this some thought.

And note that Peter Kominsky also wrote in his statement that he regularly attends screenings at the National Film Theatre/Southbank. If someone sees him there perhaps they could ask him to tell them about his three years service on the Board: and whether he intends to give the electorate the opportunity to decide if they wish him to represent them for a further year.

PS Mark Newell advised me that there is now a notice regarding the extension of the Regional representatives term in the BFI newsletter and on the Website – presumably someone read this posting!

And there are some news sets of minutes up as well.

 

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