Opinion piece: Channel 4 to Sheffield - Relocation, Relocation, Relocation
20 October 2017
By Dean Hughes, Investment Manager, Sheffield City Council
On Monday I had the pleasure of attending the first in a series of debates set to take place about the relocation of Channel 4 to a new home outside of London.
Hosted by Liverpool John Moores University, the debate (named - Relocation, Relocation, Relocation: Challenging the Regional Broadcasting Deficit) was Chaired by Andy Bounds of the Financial Times and featured a lively and knowledgeable panel:
- Professor Phil Redmond CBE, Chair of Liverpool’s Channel 4 bid
- Rt Hon Richard Caborn, Chair of Sheffield’s Channel 4 bid
- Gill Wilson, Head of Features, Channel 4
- Cat Lewis, CEO Nine Lives Media & Chair of Royal Television Society
- Stephen Chapman, TV Producer and Journalist, Prolific North
There was an entertaining and thought-provoking opening from Phil Redmond, asking does moving Channel 4 matter? He questioned the lack of scrutiny we give national assets such as Channel 4 and the BBC and questioned how their senior pay levels could justifiably exceed those of the Prime Minister. He went on to ask if the £75m purchase of The Great British Bake Off was good use of taxpayers’ money. Provoking indeed!
Phil identified three main drivers for the relocation; the industrial strategy, the appetite for it from those outside of London and finally the national media deficit. This resonates with our own thinking here in Sheffield, we feel that there isn’t just a North/South divide but an East/West divide too and through the Government's emerging Industrial Strategy we have the opportunity to tackle it - an opportunity we are determined not to let pass us by.
Unlike other cities, we have proposed to work together with Channel 4, to deliver a National Screen Industries Institute, building on the model of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and Olympic Legacy Park by bringing the private and public sector together to develop world-leading digital technologies. We’re home to two world leading Universities that are already working in partnership with the private sector to explore cutting edge technologies. We are making great strides in advanced manufacturing and health and well-being technologies, but now we want to extend the focus to the digital screen industry sector as it is through this convergence of technologies that real innovation can be made. We are already home to the UK’s largest Documentary Film festival, Doc/Fest, which Channel 4 attend each year, and we see the institute building on this solid foundation to nurture the pipeline of future skills and talent and increase the impact of their all-year-round activity.
The debate, which is available to watch on YouTube, was largely focussed on the wider DCMS consultation, which covered Channel 4’s regional broadcasting quotas. Cat Lewis made a strong case that the definitions used for quotas need changing, quoting a recent study that found that programmes made “in the regions” have no more than 50% of the staff employed in the regions and that all senior roles, decisions and post production work takes place in the South. This no doubt requires further scrutiny and as Phil said in his opening provocation, questions have to be asked of Ofcom.
In September, Karen Bradley, the secretary of state for DCMS, spoke at the Royal Television Society and said that Channel 4 must have a significant presence outside of London by the end of this Parliament. Now is the time for us to promote Sheffield, we need to make sure Channel 4 are aware of why companies like Boeing, McLaren Automotive and Rolls-Royce locate here, it’s not just for our knowledge and expertise but our partnership working and it’s with open arms that we approach Channel 4 - as partners.