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Channel 4 move to Birmingham would be “madness”

Channel 4 move to Birmingham would be “madness”

🕔21.Jul 2017

A former member of the BBC Trust and leading academic at the University of Manchester told an audience at the Shard building in London last night that the re-location of Channel 4 to Birmingham would be “madness.” Kevin Johnson reports. 

Professor Diane Coyle, who describes herself as a Professor of Economic Enlightenment, had been addressing a City Horizons event organised by the Centre for Cities think tank.

In her presentation on industrial strategy, she highlighted the creative sector as a successful example of Government intervention, notably through the BBC. She said the re-location of parts of the BBC to Salford had been successful, not least by developing a cluster of production and post-production talent around Media City.

It would be “madness” to move to Birmingham as there is no comparable cluster in place, she explained.

Asked to clarify her comment by the Chamberlain Files, Prof Coyle said she would try to justify her view that “it would be a crazy move.”

Whilst Birmingham had creative skills, these were more in digital rather than the production industry.

Prof Coyle said that moving Channel 4 to Birmingham, with the BBC and ITV presence in Salford, would dilute the agglomeration effects of re-location as part of an effective industrial strategy.

It would be better for Channel 4 people to move to a bigger centre with more people concentrated in a cluster, the academic argued.

Prof Coyle said she was sorry “we” (meaning the BBC) moved to Salford. We interpreted that not as an apology, but essentially saying the dye had been cast for any re-location by Channel 4 by the Corporation’s earlier move.

Prof Coyle was Vice Chair of the BBC Trust until April 2015. Her partner is Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC’s respected Technology Correspondent.

The former BBC Trustee did not explain how a broadcaster which commissions all its programmes, rather than makes any of them, would necessarily benefit from a production-oriented cluster. It would be unlikely that independent producers from across the UK would resist visiting channel controllers and commissioners based in an increasingly well-connected West Midlands region.

READ: Channel 4 re-location could add £5 billion to regional economy.

If Channel 4 does undertake a move, under pressure from the Government, it is likely it will work to severely limit the level and number of people it moves out of the capital. It seems highly unlikely that these would include media sales and related functions which rely on accessing markets concentrated in the capital.

A number of cities are ‘bidding’ to house Channel 4 including Liverpool and Sheffield as well as Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry and Salford.

Professor Coyle’s presentation on industrial strategy was well received by Centre for Cities’ audience. She is serving as a commissioner on the Industrial Strategy Commission, an independent inquiry into the development of a new long-term industrial strategy for the UK.

Prof Coyle is co-director of Manchester University’s Policy@Manchester. She has enjoyed senior roles at HM Treasury and the Independent newspaper as well as serving on the Competition Commission. She is a Fellow of the Office for National Statistics.

Whilst noting her likely allegiance to Manchester and pride in the BBC North project, Professor Coyle’s comments will be a blow to those campaigning to bring Channel 4 to the West Midlands.

Prof Coyle is a highly respected economist with a deep understanding of the broadcast industry. Andy Street and others will need to convince Government and channel bosses why the West Midlands will serve programmes and audiences better than either of two cities with more established television industry clusters.

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