TIGA: Treasury, not publisher interference, killed tax relief
"Even if a publisher is arguing against tax relief, they won't win", says Wilson
TIGA boss Richard Wilson has laid the blame for the government's refusal to adopt tax relief for the games industry square at the feet of the Treasury.
Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz this morning, the CEO of the UK games trade association did not entirely rule out unconfirmed allegations that a major publisher had sabotaged tax relief plans, but was convinced that efforts to convince the government of the policy's worth would nevertheless prove successful.
"The truth of the matter is we don't know," he said of the rumour. "What I would say is the key thing is, rather than to look for any scapegoat in the industry at home or aboard, for Machiavellian machinations going on in the background, to focus on the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats. They both promised before the election they would give us games tax relief. We want them to honour that commitment."
He did, however, hint that not all of the games sector had been in agreement about the proposal. "I suppose in many industries, you'll never get a sort of unanimity on policy issue. I'm not an expert in, for the sake of argument, the telephone industry, but I dare say that sometimes the interests of, for example, BT are not the same as the interests of Orange or Virgin. So you won't always get unanimity in any sector."
Despite reiterating that he was not aware of any specific sabotage attempt, he did not dismiss it. "If there was a sinister man in the shadows and he or she snapped their fingers, then it wouldn't say a great deal for our political leaders."
He was unconvinced that such external pressure could ultimately succeed, however. "Even if there is, and we don't know, or has been a publisher arguing against games tax relief, they're not going to win. We've won the argument. We're going to continue with the arguments, and we are going to get it established."
Despite the hint of possible dissent among the games industry ranks, he remained adamant that the office of George Osborne was the real stopping point for tax relief plans.
"It's the usual thing, the treasury are the people we have to convince. I think the key people in the government who need to be convinced are definitely George, and also I think David Gauke, the exchequer secretary, who is probably fairly invisible actually, externally. But he is a very, very important man."
If the treasury is solely to blame, there is a question of just why it has resisted tax relief. "One doesn't want to appear as if one has a chip on one's shoulder," said Wilson, "but you can't help thinking that so many other sectors in the economy get special treatment, for some reason videogames are so often overlooked. So I'm hoping this government is going to be grown-up and mature enough to recognise that the videogames industry is the industry of the future, and give it the support it deserves."
Other high-level politicians have been more helpful, he said. "I think it's really crucial that Jeremy Hunt, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, and Vince Cable, secretary of business, innovation and skills have both come out strongly. I know they can't come out strongly in the open, but I hope they come out strongly in discussions with their cabinet colleagues and in discussions with the treasury in particular."
Although Wilson admitted to being "pretty distressed and disappointed by the budget," TIGA's lobbying will continue. He confirmed that tax relief proposals were being revisited and "improved upon", ready for October's pre-budget report. "We've been the only organisation to push this forwards consistently and rigorously," he claimed.
He also reiterated the potential importance of domestic games development for the economy. "The videogames industry ticks all the right boxes," he claimed. "91 per cent of our developers export their products, two fifths have an R&D budget, 60 to 80 per cent of staff in a studio are qualified to degree level, and wages are above the average rates of pay."
"I really do believe we'll be successful," he said of the plan's chances for the March 2011 budget, emphasising how close to making tax relief a reality TIGA and its allies had come in just two years.
No further detail has been offered on the currently substantiated rumour of a major publisher forcing the government's hand, with ELSPA director general Michael Rawlinson also denying having heard anything to support it.
Richard Wilson's full interview with GamesIndustry.biz can be found here.