Paul Faulkner: Why Channel 4 should move to the West Midlands

Curium | 22 Jan 2018 | News | General News

“Change does not come easily to most individuals”, but change is inevitable and necessary. Guest blogger, Paul Faulkner, Chief Executive of the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, makes the case for bringing Channel 4 to the West Midlands.

The offensive to woo Channel 4 to Birmingham is increasing at a pace. Rightly so, and Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce (GBCC) stands squarely behind the courtship.

The trouble is that the target of our affections is playing hard to get. In fact, Channel 4 managers are openly opposing the idea. But, the government wants them to move out of their current headquarters in Westminster.

At the same time, the West Midlands, led by its Mayor Andy Street, has stepped up its campaign to bring the broadcaster to the region, challenging C4 executives who seem to regard English regional cities as a cultural and economic wasteland.

So why are C4 so reluctant to leave London? Some of the excuses are pathetic, like that put forward by John McVay, chief executive of the broadcasting industry umbrella group PACT.

He said the danger of moving to Birmingham would mean that “everyone spends their time on the train”, implying that relocated staff would never consider living in the West Midlands.

And then there’s Charles Gurassa, chairman of Channel 4. He told a committee of MPs last year that “a full relocation or a very substantial relocation” would make Channel 4 “weaker and smaller, and less able to deliver the remit and to invest in the creative industries around the UK”.

So, should the government force C4 to move? We can only hope that the government is not weakening on its manifesto pledge, but the fact that it has now launched a “consultation” does not fill us with confidence.

Former culture secretary Karen Bradley said last year that the government would use legislation to force C4 to move if it refused to do so voluntarily.  New culture secretary Matt Hancock seemed keen to ensure C4 moves. What has happened to that resolve now?

Step up an important ally in the shape of Caroline Norbury, chief executive of Creative England.

She says claims by Channel 4 bosses that it would be damaged by moving outside London are “frankly insulting”. She is reported as telling a national newspaper:

“There are lots of very talented people who would love to work for Channel 4. I find this idea that talent is just in working in London frankly insulting to the 58 million British people who don’t live there.

“The bigger national conversation is around more inclusive growth and popping the Westminster bubble that we see reflected in our media.

“There has been talk that there would be an exodus of talent. I don’t think there will be. People love those jobs. I don’t think you saw an exodus when the BBC went to Salford.”

When you look at the economic facts, the case for moving a media giant like C4 to Birmingham is overwhelming. Only one per cent of UK TV production funding is spent in the whole of the Midlands. That amounts to just one hundredth of the nation’s £2 billion TV money.

Manchester, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and other English regions get a share. And, since the Midlands has a combined population larger than Scotland’s, it should get a fairer of the public broadcasting pot.

We understand that change does not come easily to most individuals. And we can sympathise with the views of people like C4’s former chief executive, David Abraham. He said the broadcaster might lose between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of its staff if it moved out of London.

That may be the choice of people who work for C4 and want to continue to live in London. We can assume that they are all media savvy and can appreciate that that broadcasting talent isn’t just the reserve a cosy cartel in the capital.

And this is the centre of the problem. A London-based media will be London-centric. You, of course, run the danger of becoming focussed on whatever area you are operating from, like the BBC since it moved some of its operations to Salford.

However, it has put this Manchester suburb on the map and other English cities should be given the same opportunity.

Birmingham has not been at the front of the queue since its days hosting Pebble Mill and large ITV studios ended.

It now deserves its place in the sun through the cathode ray rube. And it will also give the myriad talents in the Greater Birmingham region an opportunity to fulfil ambitions of working in the media without the expensive process of moving to London.

HSBC and Deutsche Bank have seen the benefits of moving. Why not Channel 4?

To support the campaign to bring C4 to the West Midlands, tag your posts #wmgeneration

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