Jonathan Isaby is Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
Just occasionally, a story comes along that you simply couldn’t make up.
That’s the case with the news that the European Commission’s “Creative Europe” programme has given subsidies worth £13 million to the film and video game industries. And not just in the form of tax breaks – these are direct grants to commercial firms. Over the past three days, we at the TaxPayers’ Alliance have exposed this wasteful quango for what it is.
You’d be inclined to assume that these subsidies were at least going to worthy efforts – though that would be no excuse. Alas, even that’s not the case.
Take the £292,000 given to the makers of “Get Blake,” a cartoon which features a child being pursued by a team of three alien squirrels – the “squaliens” – sent from the future. Imagine an animated, knock-off version of The Terminator with additional rodents and you’re halfway there.
Then there are the video games: such as Ship Emergency Simulator, described as the world’s “first marine career simulator.” The cynical might suggest that the reason it’s the first is that nobody has ever felt the need to make one. The makers of the game, who admit that most of the game is “undramatic,” were nevertheless the recipients of £75,000.
It doesn’t end there – combat games between marauding gladiators, cartoons about miraculous ladybugs, even a documentary about America in the Obama years.
It’s endemic of a collection of Brussels bureaucrats with too little to do and too much money to spend.
So-called “Creative Europe” is a new initiative, bringing together previous similar but separate programmes. Somehow or other, despite the programme being centralised and in theory therefore reducing administration costs, the budget has gone up by 9 per cent to just over £1.06 billion between 2014 and 2020.
It’s easy to get lost in a sea of numbers when looking at the public finances, but the budget given to “Creative Europe” is nothing short of a scandal. That’s a billion pounds taken from the pockets of taxpayers (about a £112 million from British taxpayers) and handed over, gift-wrapped, to ludicrous vanity projects and to companies which – as a matter of free market principle – should not be in receipt of taxpayers’ money from administrators keen to pick winners.
On that principle point, it’s worth looking at the response of the spinners for the European Commission to our revelations. “Not every film supported succeeds, but audiences – and not the TaxPayers’ Alliance – decide what films and TV programmes they like.” Quite. Which is why they should stand on their own two feet, and let the market decide.
But we can’t forget the wider context, either. The continent has myriad problems, and they will not be solved by throwing money at cartoons and video games. It’s no wonder that people describe Brussels as out of touch when spending like this is revealed – it seems endemic of an organisation which is more interested in itself than the people it alleges to serve, and it must change.