Today the WMTPA released a story in the local media about the £12,500 expenses claim filed by Suzie Norton, chief executive of film quango Screen WM, which included her membership of the Ivy Club in London, and asked whether taxpayers should be footing the bill for her enviable lifestyle?
Over £5,000 of taxpayers’ cash was spent on meals and drinks as part of “business entertainment” between June 08 and June 09, and almost £900 went taxi fares as Ms Norton enjoyed attending premieres and international film festivals, lunch meeting after lunch meeting and dinner meeting after dinner meeting, often eating out on the rest of us several times a week – and that amount doesn’t even cover meals and drinks consumed as general subsistence.
Now no-one would argue that public sector execs don’t deserve expense accounts, but to many people £12,500 constitutes a salary and yet here it simply tops up what we can be sure is already a very generous salary.
And how did we ever exist before film quangos? How did film producers and directors ever make any decisions on where to locate their productions without multi-million pound public sector bodies spending thousands on entertainment in order to lure them one way or another? British taxpayers are shelling out to have a variety of these regional quangos compete with one another. If you work for one of them the “competition” is very enjoyable indeed, swanky lunches at top London locations, and lashing and lashing of free booze – but for the rest of us these quangos are holes in an already leaky bucket, and when one executive at one relatively obscure West Midlands agency thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to spend £12,500 on her own expenses in just twelve months, we’ve most definitely identified a problem.
“But we’ve brought in money!” is the cry of Screen WM, to which it’s fair to ask a couple of questions: a) but with funding from the National Lottery, the UK Film Council, Advantage West Midlands and the European Regional Development Fund, how much do actually you cost to start with?; and b) Who is to say that those who have chosen to film in the West Midlands region wouldn’t have anyway? Sure they might have let Suzie Norton et chums grease their palms and treat them to a boozy meal at the Ivy Club (why not?) but it’s unlikely that would sway film-types into setting a film in a location that completely jars with the script. It’s so difficult to measure the benefits of this quango, yet so easy to for them to spin the story that we couldn’t survive without them…
Aside from Ms Norton’s personal expenses, Screen WM itself spent £23,500 entertaining last year, and plans to spend £7,000 doing the same over the next three months. This includes a conspicuous £7,000 “familiarisation trip”, which we’ve now learned will be “to bring location managers to the region to see potential filming sites”. Surely there was a time when location managers scouted out their own sites without being courted by the public sector? Now presumably the red carpet is rolled out as every regional film quango in Britain showcases their scenery on the taxpayers’ pound?
Even if Screen WM was single-handedly supporting the region’s economy, £12,500 for one public sector exec in just 12months is still a huge cost to incur and just how relevant, necessary and profitable each of these lunches and dinners are should be under proper scrutiny. On the plus side Suzie Norton probably has a lot of friends in the film industry as they know they’ll never have to pay for lunch when she’s at the table, but the fact is we’re in a recession, and it isn’t Ms Norton picking up the tab for these endless extravagances, it’s us.