In a surprise move that could deflate the campaigning spirit of the UK game industry, the Conservative Party today sidestepped a definitive commitment to game development tax breaks.
Speaking at the London Games Conference, Shadow Culture Minister Ed Vaizey told a packed room that the Tory party will “shape the future” of the game industry if elected next Spring, while at the same time slamming Brown’s Government of inaction on the matter.
And yet – with numerous game industry luminaries listening in on Vaizey’s podium speech – the Shadow Culture Minister deftly slipped any concrete vow to introduce the kind of tax breaks that the industry has demanded for over two years.
“I know most of you have been focused on an industry-specific tax break,” he said, “but I encourage the sector to think more widely than that.”
With the Labour Government often criticised for its two-year paralysis on the issue of tax breaks, the hesitance in Vaizey’s speech will no doubt disappoint many onlookers who have viewed the Conservative Party as a genuine, progressive alternative to Brown’s cabinet.
Development tax breaks are seen by many as the only option for the UK industry to remain globally competitive. Recent Nesta reports show that the UK is in danger of falling from third to sixth in the global development league. Many other nations, namely France and Canada, have seen a surge in interest and investment after introducing development tax breaks as high as 40 per cent of production costs.
“Let me spell out our approach,” said Vaizey.
“First things first, we need to get the public finances under control by tackling our spiralling deficit. But we also need to get the economy back on its feet – and that’s where your industry, and other growth areas, come in.”
Sid Vaizey: “We want to give you the support you need to succeed and expand in the global economy. We recognise that high technology companies in the UK face specific challenges when it comes to raising finance and attracting venture capital.
“And we know that Labour’s constant tinkering with venture capital tax rules and the recent £700 million capital gains tax increase has made this situation even more difficult.”
Venture capital investment initiatives were, manifestly, the thrust of Vaizey’s pledge to the industry – a telling sign that the Tory party would likely focus more on case-by-case investments as opposed to an all-encompassing rule on tax subsidies.
“I would love nothing more than to work with you to facilitate the investment and risk-taking the industry needs,” said Vaizey.
“We are campaigning at a time when Britain is broke, but this creates an opportunity to shape policies that assist the high tech entrepreneurs that will drive our economy in the future.
“The video games sector must play a key part in this. And when possible and when necessary, we will provide the right investment, business and fiscal environment to allow you to compete.”
Elsewhere in the speech, Vaizey announced that Sir James Dyson – the billionaire inventor of the dual-cyclone vacuum cleaner – is heading up a Conservative Party taskforce to look at the options for government to provide effective support to venture capital in the digital and tech space. No further details on the taskforce were given.
“Dyson will be presenting a detailed report to David Cameron before the next election,” said Vaizey. “This report will help to shape our manifesto for government and provided we win the next election, will shape the future of your industry in the years to come.”