Tax breaks to stem flow of best television drama from Britain
TELEVISION dramas such as Downton Abbey and Birdsong will be offered tax breaks by British Chancellor George Osborne in the Budget on Wednesday.
The Government is trying to stem the flow abroad to Ireland and other countries.
For example, The Tudors, the historical drama that starred Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII, was shot in Ireland.
Production companies shooting the dramas in Britain are expected to be offered discounts of up to 25pc on their tax bills.
Birdsong, the BBC adaptation of the Sebastian Faulks novel, was filmed in Hungary, as was the forthcoming Titanic series written by the Downton creator Lord Fellowes.
A similar scheme for films has been widely regarded as a success and has led to Hollywood blockbusters being shot in Britain.
More than 585 films, including the Harry Potter movies, have benefited from the tax breaks which have cost £570bn over the past decade.
Last night, Lord Fellowes said: “British television is second to none but unfortunately, time and time again, great British programmes are being made overseas where the tax climate is more favourable.
“If the Budget can address this, it would be a fantastic move forward for our industry and the country as a whole, as a host of new productions would undoubtedly be produced here, as they certainly should be.”
A Treasury source said: “One of the ways the world sees Britain at its best is through world-class films and television made in Britain. They not only help us showcase the country, but are also an important part of a dynamic and diversified economy. Tax relief for British films has been critical in ensuring the industry continues to thrive.”
It is understood that the scheme, which will be the subject of a consultation announced in the Budget, will lead to tens of millions of pounds in tax relief being given to television production companies. The tax break will only be offered to so-called “cinematic television drama”, defined as costing more than £1?million an hour to make.
The Chancellor is also hoping to attract American productions, although there will also be a requirement on producers to hire British staff or actors to ensure that the tax break helps the economy.
Only a handful of countries offer such schemes, including Ireland, Hungary and South Africa. The US does not.
Mr Osborne, who has visited the US with David Cameron this week, is said to be a fan of Downton Abbey, and the Prime Minister has spoken of his enjoyment of dramas such as the Danish series Borgen and The Killing.
Britain is one of the world’s most successful exporters of television dramas, second only to America. In 2010, the estimated total revenue from exports was £1.42bn, up 13 per cent on 2009.
However, many of these series were made elsewhere. Downton Abbey was relatively unusual in being produced in this country.
Other series made abroad include Parade’s End, a First World War drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch for which filming took place last autumn in Belgium, and Camelot, which was filmed in Ireland.
HBO, the American network behind dramas including The Wire and Mad Men, now films 85 per cent of its programmes in countries offering tax breaks.