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The commissioning slowdown in 2023 has exposed “serious flaws” in the freelance tv model and broadcasters need to have franker conversations with their workforce to help them plan for their financial futures, Bectu and the Film and TV Charity have warned.

In a webinar hosted by Talent Manager, Bectu chair Philippa Childs and Film and TV Charity chief Marcus Ryder discussed what the government, broadcasters and freelancers themselves can do to weather the current challenges and, in Child’s words, “not just survive, but thrive”.

While welcoming the FTVC’s hardship grants, Childs said that for some freelancers to have to rely on them was a sign that a dysfunctional industry that had already been hit hard during the Covid pandemic had taken even more of a battering in 2023.

The union is hopeful that under the next government freelancers could start to get “a more level playing field” in terms of rights, building on work the union has done with the Fabian Society into potential models for family-friendly working policies, improved benefits and freelancer-focused pension schemes. She is also keen to amplify the potential benefits of more job-sharing.

Financial literacy

Ryder said that the current crisis has highlighted the importance of financial literacy, which bodies like Bectu and the FTVC could help freelancers tackle.

“In this difficult time, you really need to have a greater level of financial literacy that in almost any other industry, with our short-term issues of productions and long-term issues of boom-and-bust cycles,” he said.

Keen to avoid “victim blaming”, Ryder said freelancers need broadcasters to be transparent and give producers more time to crew up for productions, and also more notice of decommissions. This would help freelancers plan their working patterns and, where necessary, take transferrable skills to other jobs during gaps in TV and film work.

Childs agreed, adding: “People are being told that a job they thought was starting in a couple of weeks isn’t actually starting – if you’re reliant on that income to get you through the next few months, that’s clearly a huge challenge to people.”

Both said broadcasters recognise the scale of the challenge and both organisations have been having positive meetings with them on a regular basis. Ryder pointed to the extra £260,000 the industry contributed to the charity after this year’s Edinburgh festival.

Childs called on broadcasters to “think outside of the box” more.

“Sadly, there is no a magic wand in terms of commissioning – they can’t make it happen overnight,” she said. “But I do think people would feel better if broadcasters could communicate better what the problems are, and what the situation might be in 2024.”

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