Its time to stop playing political football with Scotland’s games industry

The cancellation of tax breaks for the videogames industry announced in this week’s emergency budget is a loss and disappointment for the UK games industry. The successful case made by UK bodies TIGA and NESTA which evinced support from the Labour government holds no truck with the Coalition.  While this is a body blow for the UK industry, in Scotland it strikes at the heart.  For in Scotland, the games industry is more than just one of the Cool Britannia creative industries.  In a small nation, its an precious indigenous specialism with the potential to achieve exponential returns for Scotland. 

Dundee games companies are now reportedly considering upping sticks  Colin MacDonald, from Realtime Worlds

 We would hate to move away but we’re a business.When Canada is 40% cheaper and France has built-in tax credits, you’re looking at saving millions a year.

Its clear that the games industry in Dundee is a star which, with special support could deliver not only economic benefits  – jobs and wealth  but also enhance Scotland’s reputation in the world.  The video games industry in Dundee follows on the traditions of Scotland’s unique genetic trait of creative and canny innovation, from the telephone to the television. 

Despite raids on talent from Canada and Ireland, the core of the Dundee games industry has remained in the creative cluster of Tayside for reasons of loyalty, pragmatism and pride – and the expectation that fiscal support will come into play soon. 

Support for the Scottish games industry has been a political football for too long now.  While the Scottish games industry made a strong case for support, it was wrapped up in research by the well-endowed UK think tank NESTA and UK games advocacy body TIGA and its particular cultural significance diluted in a UK wide solution.  The Labour UK government planned tax breaks across the UK which Scotland could have enhanced with other financial support. The UK breaks cancelled, what will happen now?  Whilst recognising that it makes absolute sense, the SNP has declared for the last 12 months that its lack of fiscal autonomy prevents Scotland from fully supporting the games industry. The latest rumblings in the Scottish Parliament may herald a grand gesture of providing financial support from the budget underspend.  If that’s the goal the Scottish Government needs, shoot. But its no way to go on. Scotland needs fiscal autonomy to support our cultural and economic winners but until we get it, we need to find other mechanisms to provide steady support for growth.

Creative Scotland is formally and finally launched next week with a full team and board ready to hit the ground running.  With a remit to champion the arts and creative industries in Scotland, and a specific role in leading the coordination of the Creative Industries Partnership – involving  the public agencies charged with supporting the games industry economically and culturally.  One of their first causes surely will be to champion the Scottish games industry, not only for their economic value but for their cultural significance in the success of Scotland’s creative economy.

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