[Sir Graham Brady in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the relocation of Channel 4.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir Graham. Channel 4 is undoubtedly one of our finest, most precious broadcasting assets, as evidenced by the fact that there has been intense interest from many cities and regions across the United Kingdom in hosting its new national headquarters and new creative hubs, representing 300 new Channel 4 jobs, which will not only expand its footprint across the United Kingdom but deepen its relationship with viewers.
Rightly, Channel 4 has set a high bar for bidding cities and regions, requiring robust local infrastructure and transport and, in particular, frequent, fast and reliable connectivity. For the national headquarters, it is looking for a home with a population of at least 200,000, travel time to the city of London within three hours and a high level of physical and digital connectivity.
As a Glasgow Member of Parliament, I am sure right hon. and hon. Members will understand that I am immensely pleased to see that my home city is putting in a bold, strong and ambitious bid to be the new home of Channel 4. I am particularly pleased that the chair of that bid is the famous Glaswegian journalist and broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove. Beyond Channel 4’s physical requirements, it is ultimately looking for somewhere it can feel at home. It is looking for a diverse city that has a thriving arts and production scene; a city that is not afraid to go against the grain; and a city that has a confident sense of itself but is always looking to stretch itself and take on new challenges. Setting aside the physical criteria, I wish to set out the case for Scotland’s largest city. The truth is that if Channel 4 was a city, it would be the city of Glasgow.
Glasgow is not only Scotland’s largest economy, generating more than £20 billion of economic output, but it has a growing population, standing now just shy of 600,000 citizens. Within that population, we have friends who have joined us from all four corners of the world. The well-established Chinese, Pakistani, Caribbean and African communities, along with many different European communities and other ethnic groups, proudly call Glasgow their home. It is important to note that those citizens who join us from other parts of the world are driving Glasgow’s population growth.
I mentioned that Channel 4 is looking for a city of diversity. If Members will allow me, I will adumbrate some of what has happened in Glasgow that shows we are a diverse city. Let us remember that the city of Glasgow elected Britain’s first ever Muslim Member of Parliament: Mohammad Sarwar, in 1997, as the Labour MP for Glasgow Govan. Similarly, the first ever Asian to be elected to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, the late Bashir Ahmad, came from Glasgow. Scotland’s first female First Minister—known, I suspect, to everyone in the Chamber—is a Glasgow politician. This week, we marked the life of the late Michael Martin, who was the first ever Scottish and indeed Catholic Speaker of the House of Commons, and of course he was a Glasgow MP. If that was not enough, our Lord Provost—the first citizen of Glasgow—is herself from Sweden, making her the first EU national ever to hold that post.
Today is 10 May, and on 10 May 1994 Nelson Mandela became the first black President of South Africa. Glaswegians are particularly proud of the fact that Glasgow stood alone at the time in being the first city anywhere in the world to offer Nelson Mandela the freedom of the city. At that time, other cities were still condemning him as a terrorist. Sir Graham, you will know the fantastic tale of the South African consulate based in Glasgow. Our civic leaders, in their remarkable genius, changed the name of the street that the consulate was on to Nelson Mandela Place, so every piece of mail the consulate received had the name of that country’s most famous prisoner on it.
As Mohammad Sarwar noted when he spent some time in this House, Glasgow also lays claim to being the place where chicken tikka masala was invented. Let us move on to more serious, timely matters.
When Syrians came to the United Kingdom, fleeing war, Glasgow was the first UK city to welcome them among us. Indeed, in 1999, when the then Labour Government brought in a policy of dispersal for asylum seekers to move them out of London and the south-east across the UK, Glasgow was the first city anywhere in the UK to sign up to the programme. All of us who represent Glasgow are proud that many of them still call our city their home.
It is no wonder that the English writer and raconteur Sir Compton Mackenzie said in his rectorial address to the University of Glasgow that when he gazed down on Glasgow from the Campsie Fells, it offered something that “neither Rome nor Athens” ever could: “the glory and grandeur of the future”.
He said Glasgow was
“the beating heart of a nation.”
Glasgow is home to a thriving creative arts and cultural scene. It is home to some of the best educational institutions in Europe, such as the University of Glasgow and Strathclyde University, supported by a network of colleges that is developing these communities even further.
There is an existing availability of talent in Glasgow that I have no doubt whatsoever would contribute enormously to the future of Channel 4. Of course, Channel 4 knows that, because it has been in Glasgow in some form or another for almost 30 years, working in partnership with some of our independent producers who have a reputation for being the best of the best in the business. All of the reasons that I have set out today and that have been outlined in a bold and ambitious bid document, led by Stuart Cosgrove, have led to an extraordinary display of political, geographical and cultural unity in getting behind Glasgow’s bid to host Channel 4.
The bid has been backed by all the major political parties in Scotland. It is backed formally by the Scottish Government, by Scotland’s tech city, the city of Dundee—home to Grand Theft Auto and the soon-to-be-opening V&A—and, of course, by Scotland’s capital city and home of the Scottish festival, the city of Edinburgh. I cannot tell you, Sir Graham, what an achievement it is to unite Glasgow and Edinburgh on almost anything.
Undoubtedly, one of Glasgow’s most precious assets—if not the most precious asset—is its people. Known the world over for our good humour and welcoming spirit, we have often punched above our weight on the international stage. That was displayed perfectly four years ago at the 2014 Commonwealth games, and no doubt it will be on display again this summer as we host the 2018 European championships.
Glasgow, of course, was once known as the second city of the empire, but the days of empire are gone, no matter how much some in this House might wish they were not. They are behind us. Glasgow has not stopped cutting a new image for itself over many decades, built up by some of our most famous sons and daughters, from the footballing legend Alex Ferguson—I am sure all Members will join me in wishing him a speedy recovery—to the comedy legend Billy Connolly, the musical talents of Amy Macdonald and bands such as Texas and, let us not forget, the only Scot that many people around the world will know, Groundskeeper Willie from the cartoon, “The Simpsons”.
There is a whole generation of young, talented and yet undiscovered Glaswegians who are waiting to make their mark on the world stage. My advice is that Channel 4 should snap them up now. They can be part of Channel 4’s future, and Channel 4 would be a welcome part of Glasgow’s future. Glasgow is a city that is constantly on the up, and constantly challenging itself. It is a city that is forever changing for the better, and a better home Channel 4 simply could not find.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) on securing this Backbench debate.
When launching “4 All the UK”, the chief executive of Channel 4, Alex Mahon, said:
“As a public service broadcaster with diversity in its DNA, Channel 4 has a unique ability to reflect our society. This is a significant and exciting moment of change for Channel 4 as we evolve to ensure we are best suited to serve all of the UK. With this new strategy we will go even further to make sure that people right across the UK are represented on screen and in the make up of our own organisation–and it will also build on what we already do to support creative businesses, jobs and economies in the nations and regions.”
Today we have an opportunity to debate what that means and how Channel 4 can achieve that objective in practice with three new creative hubs and a new national headquarters outside London.
As we have already heard, the criteria that Channel 4 has set for its new national headquarters are that the new location should have a working population of at least 200,000, travel time to London of up to three hours, and a high level of physical and digital connectivity and infrastructure. In addition, Channel 4 has listed five considerations that it has identified to support the evaluation of submissions that will be undertaken by Channel 4 and its advisers. The considerations are economic, demographic, diversity and environmental factors; the existing availability of talent and a future pipeline, including educational links; local connectivity and broader infrastructure; ease and speed of travel for Channel 4 employees and partners between the different creative hubs; and effectiveness and efficiency of available office space. I want to argue today that the west midlands should be the choice for Channel 4 to meet those criteria.
Why do I say that? First, as a region we easily meet the physical criteria set by Channel 4. We have a population of 2.8 million. Birmingham alone has a population of 1.5 million people. Our travel time to London by rail is 85 minutes and will be even less after the arrival of HS2. Some 86% of properties in Birmingham achieved ultrafast broadband in 2017. On the availability of office space and other physical facilities, the west midlands has those in abundance at a fraction of the price in London.
To give just two examples from Birmingham, Digbeth has established a real reputation as a creative quarter close to the HS2 station that will be coming and is close to the BBC’s base at the Mailbox. Longbridge in my own constituency is undergoing a massive transformation. It has direct rail connections to central Birmingham and beyond. It is close to the M42 and the M5 motorways and is just down the road from the BBC’s drama village in Birmingham, Selly Oak. Birmingham has many studio and production spaces at various locations, as does Coventry, a city that has already shown its potential by winning the accolade of the UK’s city of culture 2021. It, too, has a great deal to offer Channel 4.
Those are all reasons why in many ways the west midlands would be the least disruptive option for Channel 4. But if Channel 4’s vision, as set out by Alex Mahon, is to be realised, it has to be more than about physical location. It has to be about people. That is where the west midlands is the most disruptive choice for Channel 4, and that means it is also the right choice if Channel 4 is serious about diversity being in its DNA, because diversity is in the DNA of my region, the west midlands.
Research from five years ago showed that there were people from 187 different national backgrounds living in Birmingham. We have 108 languages spoken in the city. We are the youngest city in Europe, with nearly 45% of our people under the age of 25. Already, the west midlands is showing itself to be a pioneer in the disruptive technologies that are transforming what media mean in the modern age. We are home to the gaming industry. We are pioneering new content, new platforms and new forms of production. That is why the BBC has chosen Birmingham as the home for BBC Three; it is trying to tap into a generation that knows that access to media content as and when they want it is digital, and for whom the future is online. All that is connected to the needs of a young and diverse population.
If Channel 4 wants to reflect the United Kingdom of tomorrow, it should look at the west midlands today and get closer to it. Our young and diverse population is a massive reservoir of talent on which Channel 4 can build. Indeed, one of Channel 4’s criteria for its new headquarters talks about needing not only a reservoir of existing talent, but a pipeline of talent for the future. Eight universities across our region are a part of that pipeline. Channel 4 itself can be a part of building that pipeline by the choices it makes. It has the opportunity not only to harness talent, but to help to transform lives and make social mobility a reality for people—whether it be minority ethnic communities or white working class young people growing up on the outskirts of our cities—to whom it seems as though opportunities are always there for someone else,
The heritage of the west midlands has always been about making things, and it still is. Innovation has always been at the heart of successful manufacturing, and our region is now the meeting point of the industrial makers, storytellers and artistic innovators. All those things have been brought closer together in the west midlands. By choosing the west midlands for its new headquarters, Channel 4 can get closer to it, too.
Tomorrow Liverpool will launch its bid to become one of the new locations for Channel 4. The bid has strong cross-party support from across the city region. The relocation of Channel 4 is long overdue. It recognises the skills and expertise right across the country. Relocation will benefit that national broadcaster at the same time as it regenerates the regions with businesses and jobs. Liverpool is the right place for Channel 4. It meets all the criteria set out, but has so much more. It is diverse: the world in one city. It has people with excellent skills and great enthusiasm. The area has great connectivity, with the excitement of the port.
Liverpool became the European capital of culture in 2008 because of its achievements, but also because of its potential. That pivotal year was indeed a launching pad. Now, in 2018, Liverpool has surpassed all expectations. It is the most filmed city outside London. It has the Liverpool Biennial. Always reinventing itself, it has great expertise in the media and digital industries, and at the Baltic Creative there are ever-expanding, innovative businesses. Liverpool has museums, the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts with its unique offer, theatres and much more. It is bursting with enthusiasm and energy, which are matched by people’s expertise.
I have some questions about the process for selecting the new locations of the national headquarters and creative hubs. Will selection be carried out solely by Channel 4, and will the process be transparent? Have there been any prior meetings that might influence the outcome? Those important questions deserve to be answered, because the issue is a critical one. I hope that the Minister will give us reassurances on those important points. The relocation of Channel 4 is a great opportunity for Channel 4 itself, for the regions and nations of the UK, for broadcasting and for Liverpool. I hope that Channel 4 will make the right decision.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) on securing the debate.
The relocation of Channel 4’s headquarters and the locations of the new creative hubs is an important issue, and although the debate is perhaps turning into something of a beauty contest—no doubt we shall be seeing much more of each other in the next few weeks—it provides the House with a valuable opportunity to consider the merits of the bids.
I must declare an interest in that I speak not only as the Member proudly serving the people of Barnsley Central but as the Mayor of the Sheffield city region. As part of my recent campaign I pledged to establish a more vibrant, successful and co-operative economy in South Yorkshire. Those plans are founded on a three-part economic strategy—to build on our strengths, invest in our future and develop a well-paid and highly skilled workforce. The first step on that road would be the establishment of a digital inclusion taskforce, which would pave the way for the development of Sheffield as a regional hub for the creative and digital industries. That is a vision that I share with the leader of Sheffield City Council, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), and hon. Members across South Yorkshire. I believe that that vision is attainable, not just because digital employment in Sheffield and South Yorkshire stands at more than 21,000, the top 25 tech companies in Sheffield employ more than 12,000 people and bring in more than £2 billion a year and Sheffield digital companies boast one of the highest growth rates of any cluster in the UK, but because we now have the potential to supercharge that transformation with the relocation of the national headquarters of Channel 4.
The public service remit for Channel 4 focuses on important issues including quality, innovation, experimentation, creativity, diversity, public service, character and education. If someone were to read out that list of eight words to me and ask me what I was thinking, my answer would be simple: Sheffield. I say that because Sheffield not only has a proud history of high-quality and diverse manufacturing and business: it has a proven track record of promoting public service, prioritising education, and constantly demonstrating innovation, experimentation and creativity in the face of new challenges and opportunities. It is home to ZOO Digital, which works from Hollywood to Bollywood with some of the biggest names in TV and film; Joi Polloi, a home-grown digital design agency demonstrating that kids from council estates can win BAFTAs; and two world-class universities. It should also be remembered that Sheffield is the UK’s first city of sanctuary, and thus embodies much of the diversity and inclusivity that Channel 4 strives to represent.
Mindful of all that, I put a simple question to the Minister: can he think of a place in the United Kingdom that reflects the values of Channel 4 better than Sheffield? With the greatest respect to those making other bids, I cannot.
People from Channel 4 listening to the debate will be beginning to realise that they are spoiled for choice. I urge my hon. Friend, in the spirit of Yorkshire solidarity, at least to acknowledge that with respect to the diversity, infrastructure and talent criteria the city of Leeds would be a great host for Channel 4, not least because of our strong record of television and film production in Yorkshire. Will he acknowledge that we will all fight as hard as I know he will to ensure that the city we represent will be successful when the decision is finally made?
Of course I am happy to do that. Perhaps my one regret is that the decision will not be taken in a couple of months. Who knows what we might have done, had that been the case, working collectively and collaboratively across the great county of Yorkshire; but, alas, I find I am on this occasion, almost uniquely, on a different side of the argument from my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (John Grogan), who is sitting next to him.
I was intrigued to hear the comment of the hon. Member for Glasgow South about which city—if it were a city—Channel 4 would be. During questions in the House I said that if Channel 4 were a city it would be Sheffield, and that belief is based on a simple truth that makes Channel 4 and Sheffield a perfect fit for each other. I hope that I have made clear the strength of the bid that we shall submit tomorrow, but I want to mention how important the bid is and how much we hope to secure the investment. It is because the Sheffield city region is already home to 68,000 businesses, which generate £30 billion a year, but the average weekly salary is £60 less than the UK average, and it is clear that too few people in South Yorkshire have a decent income or get their fair share of the nation’s wealth. The decision to locate Channel 4 in Sheffield would not only add significant weight to the Government’s northern powerhouse but would provide a much needed shot in the arm for our city region—one that has in the past few years created 37,000 jobs. It would do much to tackle existing regional inequalities—something that should be a priority for any Government.
With all that in mind, and recognising that the decision is ultimately for Channel 4, I hope and trust that the Minister will give serious consideration to the strength of Sheffield’s bid and that that will help to ensure that the brand that is “Made in Sheffield” will become as much a mark of excellence in the age of information as it was in the age of steel.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham, and to put Cardiff’s case for Channel 4. As we are talking about Channel 4, it is right that I should use four Cs to put my case: that we are a creative cultural capital, that we have a diverse community, that we have the cutting-edge capacity that Channel 4 needs and, crucially, that we already deliver a commitment to Channel 4 in our city.
My first speech in this place was about Cardiff and how it has changed over many years. We were at the heart of the industrial revolution and coal and steel exporting across the world; the first £1 million cheque was signed in the coal exchange. I spoke about how the smoke stacks and docks of old were giving way to the brand new creative cutting-edge industries of the future, and the opportunities that they were giving young people in our diverse capital city. That is where I see Cardiff’s future, and I know that view is shared by my colleagues and hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin), for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) and indeed for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), although I know he will have to take a careful and balanced view today from the Front Bench. That view is also taken by Cardiff City Council, the city region, our leader Huw Thomas, the Welsh Government and all our arts and cultural institutions, including those in the television and film production sector in Cardiff.
Independent TV already generates £350 million in the Cardiff economy every year. We already have 15,000 people employed in creative and cultural activities— a ready-made resource of expertise for Channel 4 to tap into. We have 7,000 students studying in the creative sectors in Cardiff at a range of institutions, which I will come on to. We have 3,000 creative companies and facilities located in Cardiff, including those in television and film production. Some are very large, including the famous BBC Drama Village, Pinewood Studios and Wolf Studios Wales. A strong relationship already exists between Channel 4 and Sianel Pedwar Cymru—S4C—the fourth channel in Wales, and its facilities are not far down the road. We also have the new ITV facility in Assembly Square.
We have fantastic facilities such as NoFit State Circus, the Wales Millennium Centre and the Cardiff Animation Festival, and community facilities such as Indycube in my constituency, which provides facilities for small, start-up creatives that are often supplying the larger facilities, right there and being supported in our community. We also have fantastic locations such as the TramShed.
We have a diverse community; I know many cities around the UK will share that, but Cardiff truly is remarkably diverse, with 100 languages, 100 nationalities and one of the oldest Muslim communities in the UK. In my own constituency alone I have six mosques, three Hindu temples, a synagogue just on the edge, a Sikh gurdwara, a Greek Orthodox church and people who have come from far and wide because of Cardiff’s maritime heritage and our welcoming city. It is a remarkable community to draw on and represents the Wales and Britain of today—a perfect place for Channel 4.
Of course, diversity goes well beyond issues of ethnicity, religion and national origin. As a gay MP, I am proud that Cardiff hosts the Iris prize, one of the leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender film festivals, every year, that we are the host of Pride Cymru and part of the Big Weekend, one of the biggest LGBT celebrations across the UK, and that I am likely to bump into people such as Russell T. Davies down in Cardiff bay. He is the creator of one of Channel 4’s most famous programmes, “Queer as Folk”, and more recently things such as “Cucumber” and “Banana”, as well of course “Doctor Who”, produced in Cardiff.
We have a strong commitment to another issue that Channel 4 is also committed to—disability and Paralympic sport. We are the birthplace of Tanni Grey-Thompson, who learned to swim in the Splott pool in my own constituency and went to St Cyres School in Penarth, and of Paralympic champions such as Aled Davies and others whom Channel 4 has done so much to champion.
We have cutting-edge capacity. We were No. 1 for quality of life in the EU’s city index in 2016. We have the digital connectivity and infrastructure that is driving so many creative film and TV companies to Cardiff. We have those three universities, the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, Cardiff Metropolitan University and the University of South Wales, and we have the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama generating talent, skills, technical capacity and all the other supplies that Channel 4 will need to be successful in Cardiff. We have that crucial working population of one quarter of a million in Cardiff, and of course we have the wider capital city region. We have places such as Cardiff and Vale College in my own constituency, which I am proud to see building up young people to go into the creative sectors.
Crucially, we are already delivering a commitment for Channel 4. The broadcast award-winning Boomerang, one of the largest suppliers to Channel 4 covering primetime, daytime and sports coverage, is located locally. We have companies such as Nimble Dragon, Avanti, Sugar and Boom Cymru already working with Channel 4, and others are leading the way: One Tribe TV, Tarian, Vox Pictures, Orchard, Bad Wolf and Wolf Studios Wales. We have fantastic post-production facilities, with cutting-edge companies such as Gorilla, and visual effects companies such as Bait Studio, Milk VFX and Reel SFX. Fitting with what Channel 4 is looking for, the executive producer of “Doctor Who”, Chris Chibnall, said, “The talent base here is simply extraordinary, it is ambitious, bold and takes risks.”
That is very much the Channel 4 that I know and love, and that is what Channel 4 can gain from coming to Cardiff. I hope the Minister will listen closely; I hope Channel 4 will listen closely, and I look forward to supporting the bid with all my Cardiff colleagues and those in the wider region in the days and weeks to come.
I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) for securing today’s debate.
The spread of the creative industries across our country is of great importance to me. I am lucky to have worked in the creative industries for many years, and because of that experience I understand the positive impact that they can have on economic growth, skills, training, employment and regeneration. That is why I see Channel 4’s decision to move significant parts of its operation as a great step and a powerful catalyst for change. The opportunities the relocation brings have caught the attention of many regions, and the Leeds city region, which includes my constituency and the district of Kirklees, is among them. It hopes to spark a revolution in the creative and screen industries in Yorkshire.
Although I am happy to back that bid, I want to ensure that the decision makers do not overlook Leeds’s less well-known neighbours. I hope they look beyond the big cities when choosing where to relocate, and factor in what surrounds those cities. Our towns and villages, such as Batley and Spen, have just as much to offer, and arguably more to gain. This revolution needs to benefit the whole of Leeds and the city region, not just the city. In Kirklees, we have talent, creativity, technical know-how and digital infrastructure to rival what can be found anywhere in the nation.
We are well served for motorway access; we have wonderful picturesque towns and villages, boutique hotels, great restaurants, loads of ice cream parlours, a proud industrial heritage and a vibrant multicultural community, not to mention mile after mile of stunning countryside. Channel 4 need look no further for film locations, from sprawling manors steeped in history and beautiful country parks to thriving urban hubs and heavy industry. “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” and the miniseries “Gunpowder” were both filmed at the stunning Oakwell Hall and country park in Birstall. The Emmy award-winning “Hank Zipzer” was filmed in Batley, and Kay Mellor’s series on births, marriages and deaths was filmed in Dewsbury town hall.
Last year, in memory of my predecessor Jo Cox, we brought an acclaimed production of “Les Mis” to the town of Batley. We had a diverse community of 100 young people from across our diverse schools, with an A-list west end professional team sharing their skills and enabling our young working-class kids to punch well above their weight. We proved it could be done, and we will do it again. While Channel 4 is at the forefront of promoting regional talent, we have talent in spades. I beg the Minister to impress on Channel 4 that talent lies not only in the cities, but in the towns that surround them, and that the opportunities in these communities must be part of its thinking when deciding where to relocate. I put my hat in the ring and say that Leeds city region is obviously where my heart lies, but I hope the regional element will also be factored in.
This is an exciting process, is it not? It is a great pleasure to follow the inspirational speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), and I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) on his paean of praise for the great city of Glasgow.
I will make a couple of opening remarks before concentrating on the Leeds city region. It is worthy of note that, for the first time since I was originally elected to the House in 1997, it is uncontested across all political parties that Channel 4 is best in the public sector. To paraphrase Sir Michael Grade when he was chief of Channel 4, Channel 4 can be in the public sector with a public broadcasting remit or it can be privatised, but it cannot be both. The fact that this process is taking place at all is testament to that; long may it remain so.
Another point worthy of note is that the new management of Channel 4 have embraced the process. A year ago, when I was re-elected to the House of Commons and had my first contacts with Channel 4, there were doubts about whether it could possibly come out of London and whether the talent would be available, and we heard about moving schools and all the same sorts of excuses that were made in the debate about the BBC 10 or 15 years ago. I am very pleased. I congratulate Ministers and shadow Ministers on keeping up the pressure; I think Channel 4 management are now behind the process.
Channel 4 is a great British institution. There are few that are similar in other nations in Europe, except perhaps ZDF and ARD in Germany. To have two great public service broadcasters, and Channel 4 with its particular remit, is something that makes me proud to be British.
Moving on to the Leeds city region’s bid, my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen made the very good point that, although people say that their cities are like Channel 4, we have learned politically over the last few years that the United Kingdom is not just about cities. That is one of the strengths of the Leeds city region’s bid. Public investment in television in England and Wales over the last 30 or 40 years has all been in the west of the nation. There is a big gap in the east of the country where there has been no big investment in television and film.
There are obviously two bids here from Leeds and Sheffield, and both have strengths. As the new Mayor of the Sheffield city region, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), progresses in that role over the coming years, Sheffield will develop magnificently. At the moment, as an impartial judge from Keighley, I say that Leeds probably has the edge in terms of its creativity and of its being in the fastest growing area for television production throughout the country, and probably in terms of transport—until the new Mayor has had his full impact on improving Sheffield’s transport links. I would probably just about give it to Leeds.
However, I think we agree that it would be outrageous—I use that word advisedly, Sir Graham—if there was no representative from God’s own county on the shortlist that Channel 4 draw up. That is inconceivable, particularly given the investment record in the east of the country. I hope that, whether it is Leeds or Sheffield—unless both progress to the next stage—if only one Yorkshire city or region is on that shortlist, we will all unite behind it. This is a marvellous opportunity.
To further make the case for the Leeds city region, we have the infrastructure, we have Sky, we have Perform and we have Yorkshire TV. We have Rockstar Leeds, the makers of Grand Theft Auto, which has sold more than 250 million copies around the world. We have Pace and ARRIS in Saltaire, which power internet and TV for hundreds of millions of people globally. We have the people and we have the infrastructure, does my hon. Friend not agree?
I do agree. One thing I admire about my hon. Friend is that he is much trendier than I am and is so much more in touch with the creative hub that is Leeds. He is right to say that Leeds has not only the history—Yorkshire Television and so on, which led to the spinning out of many production companies—but also this whole new phase and new generation of talent. I very much hope that Channel 4 recognises that.
Thank you for your robust chairmanship and discipline so far in ensuring a geographical spread of speakers, Sir Graham. I congratulate my Glaswegian colleague and friend, the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), on bringing the debate. He made a marvellous, erudite case for Glasgow, which I hope to embellish on somewhat.
When considering Channel 4’s new “Location, Location, Location”, where better than where that magnificent programme, which is a great standard bearer for Channel 4’s publishing capability, is produced—in Glasgow? It is an independent production by IWC Media and is one example of the great pedigree that Glasgow already has in broadcast media. Where better for Channel 4 to relocate than Glasgow?
Glasgow’s relationship with public service broadcasting goes back to the very father of public service broadcasting, John Reith, who was educated in Glasgow and cut his teeth as an apprentice at the North British Locomotive Company in my constituency before traveling to London to set up the BBC in 1922. Glasgow’s relationship with the spirit of public service broadcasting is as old as public service broadcasting itself, and is embellished both by the grit of the city’s industries and the glamour of its creative capacity.
Bound up in the spirit of Channel 4 is its ability to take risks and to be radical. Who was more radical than John Logie Baird himself, one of the pioneers of television, who pioneered his craft at what became the University of Strathclyde and transmitted the world’s first long-distance television pictures to Glasgow’s Grand Central Hotel in 1927?
Glasgow today hosts two of the main broadcasters in the United Kingdom, including the ITV franchise Scottish Television, which started in 1957 and was born out of Glasgow’s music hall and theatre tradition, based at the Theatre Royal in the city. That tradition continues today. Think of “Mrs Brown’s Boys”, one of the greatest productions on the BBC and one of its greatest comedy shows. It was born out of the risk taken by Iain Gordon, the proprietor of the Pavilion Theatre—the only independent theatre in Scotland—in bringing the stage show to Glasgow. As a result, it spun off and had such roaring success that it became an amazing BBC production. That shows the risks taken by our city’s cultural champions at every level, from theatre through to broadcast media itself.
BBC Scotland, the mainstay of Glasgow’s broadcast media capability—launched formally in 1968 but based in the city since 1957—broadcasts 15,000 hours of radio and television productions per year. That is one of the striking things about Glasgow’s capacity: its broadcast media production capability. When I went down to Channel 4 last month, when it launched its call for places in the UK to bid for the relocation of its headquarters, one thing that struck me about its building in Victoria was that it has no studios. Channel 4 does not produce; it is a publisher. Critical to Channel 4’s criteria for its location is its desire to be at the centre of a major hub and a major ecosystem of production capability.
That is where Glasgow has great strengths. It is already at the centre of an unrivalled capacity for delivering broadcast media production, ranging from massive global hits such as “Outlander”, which is filmed and produced at studios in Cumbernauld in the greater Glasgow city region, through to “Question Time”, which I am sure many Members are familiar with and which is produced by Mentorn Media, based in Glasgow. An old university colleague is an assistant producer on “Question Time”; I know many people who are highly involved in broadcast media production in Glasgow. There is a great talent base in the city to draw on.
There we go. We have a fine tradition, from creative comedy to drama, including political drama. Glasgow has a fantastic pedigree across the full spectrum of broadcast media production.
My experience of working in industry showed me that Glasgow always has that creative potential, with the interface of engineering, creativity and innovation working with Glasgow’s creative sector.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments. That great creative media hub at the heart of Glasgow, at Pacific Quay, would be a magnificent centre for Glasgow to host Channel 4. There is so much opportunity there. It is a former industrial site that can be easily developed to meet the needs of Channel 4. There are also lots of other options, from CityPark in Dennistoun in my constituency, for which Stuart Cosgrove—a constituent of mine—is leading a bid, down to Film City in Govan, which is the old Govan town hall and has been converted into the most fantastic media hub for Glasgow and for Scotland.
My experience of working with Glasgow’s creative sector was as a shipbuilder. We were looking at creating a museum of Glasgow’s shipbuilding heritage. Sir Alex Ferguson, as a son of Glasgow, proudly sponsored the creation of a digital, virtual-reality reconstruction of Glasgow’s shipbuilding industries. I share the sentiments wishing him all the best in his recovery from his recent illness.
I was involved in helping to create that reconstruction with the Digital Design Studio—now the School of Simulation and Visualisation—which is part of the Glasgow School of Art. After we created it, it was so impressive that BAE Systems decided that it wanted to utilise it for modern shipbuilding. That is an example of how Glasgow’s creativity and media production could actually help to generate innovation, even in the old industries, as we have seen; we created new innovations in engineering. That is exactly the sort of dynamism and creativity that Glasgow is all about.
That is just one example of how I have interfaced with that, and it shows why Glasgow offers such a good opportunity to be the heart of Channel 4’s production capability—by plugging into that great ecosystem at the heart of the city. I have every confidence that Glasgow will present a robust bid that will be looked upon very favourably by Channel 4, and which will plug into the best traditions of Glasgow—innovation, creativity and dynamism.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting today’s debate. It is no coincidence that five hon. Members from the Leeds city region—I say “York and Leeds city region”—are here for the debate. Because of the sheer scale of the creativity, talent and diversity across our region, it is crucial that we speak up for the future of the region, but also for the future of this sector. We must see this as a global opportunity for Channel 4. There are major export opportunities for our economy, but also opportunities for serving the public and enriching our culture at the same time. Media is so powerful in its execution, and this proposal provides a real opportunity to rebalance our economy and to celebrate the diversity of our communities as we move forward.
I will say York’s piece, because colleagues have spoken for their own part of the region. York is a city that is transitioning from the Vikings, steam trains and chocolate that we all think about to one that now stands as the UK’s only UNESCO city of media arts. It is unrivalled in its digital and media offer and is one of 114 global cities within that footprint of UNESCO. It is where the past meets the present and it provides the platform to shape the future. Today, I want to extol the virtues of York as the place for Channel 4 to find its home.
Educationally, we see the city advancing in the creative sector. I am thinking of Manor school and its state-of-the-art studios to develop pupils’ interest in the sector; the investment that the independent-state schools partnership puts into the media industry to draw on the talent of the children of our city and give them the opportunity to experience the sector; and the outstanding York College, which provides a platform for academic and vocational excellence. We have two fantastic universities: York St John University and the University of York, which is now third in the nation for film and television production. Impressive as it is, its reputation is growing; I visited only recently.
York is a desirable place to live. In fact, it comes out consistently as the UK’s No. 1 place to live and to visit, with 7 million visitors each year. With its connectivity, the city is like no other. We have the TransPennine Express—it will be express, particularly under a Labour Government when we get electricity on the line. We have the east coast main line, which means that we are within two hours of London, and again, journey times will be shortened, because High Speed 2 will be arriving at the heart of our city. Seven million people can reach the region within an hour.
We have an opportunity to create and shape the future of that part of the country as we see the creative sector growing. I am thinking of the Mediale festival, a digital media festival at the heart of York. The Castle Gateway project is moving forward; that area will be York’s new cultural hub.
I will focus my final comments on the economic opportunity and cultural opportunity that York offers. Next to the station is a 72-hectare site, the biggest brownfield site in Europe, where Channel 4 can come and shape its future and the future of our city. In its digital connectivity, the city of York is like no other in the UK. It is the first gigabit city in the UK, with its extensive dark fibre network.
As a city, we have grown in the new technologies of the future, and the digital creative sector is at the heart of stretching our economy into new fields. It is certainly the way forward for Channel 4; it will see a skills base on which it can draw. The digital creative labs in York are unparalleled in the research that they are doing. That is driving the sector forward. The studios at Church Fenton have such a reputation; we have heard about the films being made. There is also the gaming industry; we can look at the creative industry on that front. Again, we are at the forefront. York provides a massive opportunity for Channel 4 to find its new home, and it will reach into the whole business community of the city. It will give the perfect offer to Channel 4.
I am delighted to be able to speak in support of the proposal that Channel 4 come to Glasgow, the city that I represent. I express my solidarity with Team Glasgow, who are heading down on the train from Glasgow just now. To my council colleagues, Stuart Cosgrove and the rest of the team who are on the train on their way down here with the bid document, I say that I look forward to their safe arrival in the city. I like to think that we are playing for the away team and they are the home team, coming down to do their very best for us.
Glasgow is very much the right city for Channel 4, because like Glasgow, Channel 4 is pure gallus, and it has been from the start. It offers something that challenges, that is different and that is unusual, and it seeks to find the stories that we do not get in other places; that is certainly the story of Glasgow.
Already, as other hon. Members have said, there are production companies that are based in Glasgow and going about the business of telling the stories of the people. Firecrest Films specialises in documentaries, such as “Breadline Kids”, which brought the story of people who were in severe poverty to our screens. Nicole Kleeman says that basing Channel 4 in Glasgow would be an “enormous opportunity in Scotland”. It is currently telling the story of the cancer hospital, the Beatson, which many of my constituents have found very moving. They can see their own stories reflected in those documentaries.
Matchlight, which is also based in Glasgow, says:
“Glasgow is inherently diverse in all measures. It would be a great home for the channel. TV must represent all of the UK if it is to be relevant to the audience.”
Matchlight also works in Gaelic. It does production for BBC Alba as well as for Channel 4, where it works for “Dispatches”, which, as we all know, tells really deep and important stories and brings them to light.
Raise the Roof is the UK’s sixth fastest growing indie producer and is also based in Scotland. It is the biggest Channel 4 supplier from Scotland, and very proudly so. Not only does it do work here, but its very successful production company, which was built through Channel 4’s programmes, exports to 37 countries around the world, so this activity is not just of benefit to Glasgow, Scotland or the UK; we are growing the ability of our native producers to export to the world. Chris Young of Young Films, who is best known for “The Inbetweeners” and is based in Skye in Scotland, also says that basing the channel in Glasgow would be a game changer for Scotland.
I could not agree more with the hon. Lady’s advocacy of the strength of the Glasgow bid. Two “Star Wars” actors, including Ewan McGregor, came from my constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire. Does she agree that locating Channel 4 in Glasgow will provide opportunities and inspiration not only to the city, but to the counties and regions that surround it?
I very much agree. One frustration that I picked up in meeting some of the production companies and Channel 4 at a meeting that it hosted with me in Glasgow, at its West George Street base, was that of always having to look at things through a London lens. The creative decision makers at Channel 4 are often based down here, so basing Channel 4 in Glasgow would be a radical decision that would re-tilt the axis of the media in the UK. I feel that it would also bring benefits to Northern Ireland, which is within close travelling distance of Glasgow, and to the north of England. It would fundamentally change the way in which the media work in the UK.
Glasgow is many things, but it is also very closely bound together. It is a very cohesive city; we cannot ignore one another in the street. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) and the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) mentioned, it has diversity. It has people who have lived in Glasgow all their lives; interlopers like me, from Lanarkshire; and people from Somalia, Pakistan, Eritrea, China and Afghanistan. They have all come together and live cheek by jowl—not across boundaries, but cheek by jowl with one another in one of the friendliest cities in the world.
I would like to tell a wee anecdote to exemplify just how friendly Glasgow is. At an event that Radiant and Brighter—an organisation that helps to support people who come to the city from other countries—held at the city chambers in Glasgow, a doctor who was speaking at the meeting said, “My experience of coming to Glasgow was that I came out of Central station and was a bit lost. I didn’t know where I was going, so I asked somebody. That person not only told me where to go; he took me to where I was going. He took time out of his day to take me along the street and around the corner to the place that I needed to get to.” That typifies Glasgow for me: people are so friendly that they will go out of their way to help others and make them feel at home.
Channel 4 would be very welcome in the city as a large employer, but also as part of the creative culture of the city. We have in the city the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, bringing through great, wonderful arts graduates. There is also the Glasgow School of Art, which is a beacon of art and design. There are also other universities and colleges within the city, all of which produce great talent that would be very well employed at Channel 4.
I would like close with an anecdote from a member of my office staff, Alexander Belic, who had cause to leave the city for a brief period earlier on today. He told me what he saw when he came back in:
“There is a busker performing ‘No Diggity’ on a guitar and a leprechaun releasing torrents of bubbles down Buchanan street—what a town.”
I think Channel 4 would fit well within Glasgow. I welcome it to choose Glasgow and back our bid.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. This is an important debate about one of the most exciting media developments that has happened in the UK in many years. As many others have done, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) on securing this debate. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions in this well-informed and highly entertaining debate.
I wonder if hitherto Channel 4 had any idea just how popular it was. There is hardly a nation or region that has not extolled its virtue this afternoon. In many ways, however, this debate is an after-party. As us luvvies would say, we have retired to the green room. Those who were here bright and early this morning will know that the bidding war started at Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions. No one should be surprised that the first shots in that war were fired by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), who was of course backing Glasgow’s bid to be the home of Channel 4’s national headquarters. By the end of DCMS questions, supporters from Sheffield, Birmingham and Lichfield had made their pitches too. I believe there were others, but I suspect that many of those were hon. Members who had not a clue what was happening. They had walked into a bidding war and wanted to ensure that their constituency did not miss out on what was on offer.
As anyone will testify, I came to this debate as a fair and honourable man, and with a completely open mind. But having heard so many excellent speeches from hon. Members from different areas across the UK, I have decided to throw my not inconsiderable weight behind the Glasgow bid. Yes, I can see the shock on the faces in front of me, but I have been persuaded by the excellent contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow South and for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), and the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney). I endorse everything they said. If Channel 4 is seeking a new location, location, location, there is nowhere better suited than Glasgow.
As Stuart Cosgrove, the broadcaster and journalist chairing Glasgow’s bid, said:
“Glasgow is in tune with the values that are at the heart of Channel 4—diversity, equality, innovation with a bit of irreverence thrown in.”
He could have added to that if Channel 4 wants to relocate to a city that already boasts a thriving independent production and freelance sector; a city where both the national Government at Holyrood and local government in George Square are totally committed to supporting the film and television sector; and a city where there is a vast array of creative and cultural talent that is ready, willing and able to get to work, that city is Glasgow.
I could not agree more. It does not happen often—let us call it a red-letter day—but I believe I am in agreement with the hon. Gentleman. As the leader of Glasgow City Council, Susan Aitken said, our city has
“a high concentration of skills, academic excellence and a highly qualified workforce.”
Although I am the proud representative of Argyll and Bute, I am a proud Glaswegian to my bootstraps. I absolutely agree with both Susan and Stuart. As someone who has spent the majority of their working life making television programmes for the Scottish, UK and international markets from Glasgow, I cannot think of a better place for a vibrant, exciting, innovative and daring broadcaster to set up its headquarters than Glasgow.
Although this is a bid for and on behalf of the city of Glasgow, it is in many ways Scotland’s bid. Scotland’s First Minister gave it her unequivocal backing, when she said:
“the unique character of Glasgow, multicultural, welcoming, hugely creative, and irreverent, is a great fit for Channel 4.”
In an almost unprecedented move, the leaders of all of Scotland’s political parties are united in support of this bid. If that were not enough to persuade Channel 4 to move to Glasgow, the fact that the city of Edinburgh is prepared to set aside ancient rivalries to support Glasgow’s bid should tell Channel 4 that there are now no limits to what it can achieve by setting up its national headquarters on the banks of the Clyde.
Glasgow fits all the criteria like a glove. It ticks all the boxes: population size, proximity to centres, and the level of physical and digital connectivity. Glasgow is already home to BBC Scotland and STV. It boasts of having the National Film and Television School hub, based at Pacific Quay. Channel 4 itself has had a presence in the city for many years.
When it comes to journey times, there is a three-hour target. I can get from my flat in Glasgow to the door of my office in Westminster in three hours. Not only that, but we have a commitment from the Department for Transport that HS2 will deliver three-hour journey times by rail as well. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
Anything that can speed up journey times to Glasgow has a beneficial effect for the whole of the United Kingdom. I am certain that Glasgow City Council would make the transition for Channel 4 as painless as it could possibly be for the company, its employees and their families—more painless than Phil and Kirstie could ever do. We have heard welcome contributions from the hon. Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), for Keighley (John Grogan)—the Mayor of Sheffield just learned the old adage that the opposition may be in front of you, but you your enemies are most certainly behind you—for Glasgow North East and for York Central (Rachael Maskell). I imagine that if some enterprising producer is watching this debate, there is a fantastic new Phil and Kirstie series to be made, based on that list of people trying to get relocation, relocation, relocation to their town or city.
For me, the most important contributions have come from my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow Central and for Glasgow South. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central was absolutely right when she said that Glasgow is indeed “pure gallus”. I believe it is that gallusness that sets it apart from any other bid. She was right to highlight the welcoming nature and cultural diversity of Glasgow. As the mover of the motion, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South, said, we have Chinese, Pakistani, Indian and Caribbean communities, as well as an array of African communities and a multitude of our highly valued EU citizens, including—I just found this out today—our Lord Provost, who is Swedish-born. Glasgow has always had worldwide appeal, and that is reflected in the cultural diversity of our city. It is a major attraction to a broadcaster such as Channel 4.
In conclusion, I thank my hon. Friend for securing this debate and I thank all who took part. It has been well informed and hugely entertaining, a bit like “Channel 4 News”. As my SNP colleagues have said, we very much welcome Channel 4’s decision to move its national headquarters out of London. It is something that I have wanted to happen for a long time, both in my career as a television producer and latterly as a politician. Indeed, I raised the matter with David Abraham, the Channel 4 CEO, at his final appearance before the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee last year. I spoke of the frustration that producers felt about having to come to London from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the north-west of England or wherever to pitch an idea to a London-based commissioner, who they just knew did not quite get it because he or she did not live in the same world. To move out of London can only be a good thing for Channel 4, for creative sectors across the UK and for those communities whose voices and stories are rarely heard.
Whichever city Channel 4 decides to move to, I guarantee that it will find no warmer welcome and no greater support from local and national Governments than it will receive in Glasgow, and it will not meet a more creative and multicultural community ready to make an outstanding success of the move than that of Glasgow.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) on securing this interesting debate. The message that we should all take away is that we have great cities and towns around the United Kingdom that are all ready to bid for the wonderful opportunity of the relocation of Channel 4’s headquarters and the creative hubs.
The hon. Gentleman reminded us of the connection between the city of Glasgow and Nelson Mandela and, by coincidence, I was in Cardiff on 16 June 1998 when Nelson Mandela received the freedom of the city. The hon. Gentleman also made a strong case for the city of Glasgow, and it was heartening to hear such a full endorsement from the SNP of a pitch process entitled “4 All the UK”. That can only be a welcome development. On a serious note, he rightly highlighted the merits of his city and its wonderful creative sector.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) described Birmingham as both the least and the most disruptive choice for Channel 4 in an imaginative and creative use of language, and made an extremely strong case for his city.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) made her pitch for the wonderful city of Liverpool. She described it as the most filmed city outside London, which is a statistic I was not aware of. She did not mention the marvellous Liverpool Everyman Theatre, where my brother, Patrick Brennan, is starring as Iago in “Othello” and as Ben Rumson in “Paint Your Wagon” as part of the Liverpool Everyman rep revival, which has gone so well and had marvellous reviews. Tickets are available from all the usual locations. It is a wonderful city with a marvellous cultural heritage. In promoting it, she did not even emphasise the Beatles that much, which shows that there is an extremely broad and wonderful cultural offer in the city of Liverpool, which is another worthy candidate for Channel 4’s relocation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) is the newly elected Mayor of the Sheffield city region, so may I take the first opportunity to congratulate him publicly on that achievement? He described our debate as a beauty contest. We are all relieved that he did not describe it as an episode of “Naked Attraction”, which I understand is one of the late-night offers on Channel 4—not that I have ever seen it myself. The clarity of his pitch explains why he was so successful in his recent campaign. For a man famous for his gallantry, he was surprisingly easily ambushed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), but he made an excellent pitch on Sheffield’s behalf.
My neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), rightly pointed out that as someone speaking from the Front Bench, I have to maintain a degree of neutrality in relation to the proposed bids. I have to say, however, that he made an extraordinarily powerful, persuasive, compelling, erudite and eloquent case for the capital of Wales as the ideal home for Channel 4’s headquarters. I will say no more than that, in case I get into a lot of trouble with my hon. Friends.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. There is another benefit for Channel 4 in that it could have two diversely performing MPs. He performs with MP4 and has a TV career, and I performed with my a capella group, House of Chords, at Pride Cymru last year. Channel 4 would have performers in its MPs as well.
I am not one to blow my own trumpet, so I will not comment further on that, and I do not want to endanger my relationship with my hon. Friends by saying anything further about Cardiff’s bid.
May I take this opportunity to wish my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) a happy birthday? She was seen celebrating last night, and she is looking remarkably fresh today. I will say no more. She eloquently made an important point about the need to ensure that our creative industries serve our towns as well as our cities. She also pointed out that our creative industries often rely on locations out of cities in the countryside—our heritage locations—which hon. Members have celebrated here and in other debates on tourism and the creative industries. We should remember how important that is to channels such as Channel 4. In particular, I praise her efforts last year, and the efforts of the commission she worked on, to open up opportunities for working-class children in the creative industries. I strongly commend her for that, and she made a very good speech today.
I am sorry to admit that I have known my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (John Grogan) for more than 35 years, which is a long time. He made a strong case for the Leeds city region. He rightly pointed out that we have reached a consensus about Channel 4 being in the public sector that is to be welcomed above all. For many years, the uncertainty about its status and the threat of privatisation undermined the sort of process that we are talking about, which gives clarity to Channel 4’s future in its role as a public service broadcaster. He said that we have two great public service broadcasters, but we actually have more than that. As well as the BBC, we have ITV, Channel 5, S4C—the Welsh fourth channel—and STV, which remains an independent channel in the ITV family, as was mentioned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) rightly pointed out Glasgow’s history, the origin of television and the great John Logie Baird’s contribution. He described the commission of “Mrs Brown’s Boys” as a cultural risk. I had not thought that it was that much of a risk, but it is a fine programme. He pointed out that the lack of studios at Horseferry Road should be about spreading capacity across the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) mentioned a third Yorkshire city—York itself. She described a brownfield site near York station and its excellent connectivity, and made a powerful case.
The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) listed all the production companies—
Well, not all of them; some of them—a small smidgen of the production companies based in the city of Glasgow. Again, she made a powerful case on Glasgow’s behalf.
I will say a word or two about Channel 4. We welcome the fact that Channel 4’s status in the public sector has been confirmed and that the Government have decided that they will not pursue its privatisation, which was under consideration. We welcome the process that Channel 4 has begun, because it is important that our creative industries are spread around the country and not just based in the city of London. Talent is everywhere in the UK, as we have heard, but the opportunity to exploit that talent or to work in the creative industries is not always equally spread.
This is an important moment. Hon. Members may guess my private thoughts on the matter, but whoever wins the bid, it will be a major step forward in ensuring that that opportunity is spread around the country so that talent from all sorts of backgrounds and all parts of the United Kingdom has a chance to prosper in our wonderful creative industries.
It is a great honour and pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. You may be forgiven for thinking that you have been presiding over a constituency candidate selection process, with everybody speaking so eloquently and passionately about their own area, but at least it was not a beauty contest, because that would have been very difficult for you indeed.
The first thing I want to do, of course, is to thank the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) for introducing this debate on Channel 4’s relocation proposals. He spoke eloquently, as he usually does, and passionately about his constituency and his home town, where he was born and brought up, as did all the other Members who spoke about their own local areas this afternoon.
That includes the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), who powerfully extolled the virtues of Birmingham and the west midlands, including the impressive transport links, and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), who is always very persuasive. She asked questions that I will come to in more detail in a moment. However, this is of course a matter for Channel 4; it is Channel 4’s process. It is not a matter for Ministers. It is an ongoing process, it is well-publicised and we will work to ensure that Channel 4 delivers on it.
The Government were very happy to reach an agreement with Channel 4 earlier this year for it to increase its regional impact. As Members from across the House have said, that is very important. We also want to protect and enhance this important public asset, to make sure that it has a bright and sustainable future in a fast-changing broadcasting landscape. We are conscious of that and it is what we want to do—to support Channel 4 in that endeavour.
The Government have long been clear that Channel 4 should have a major presence outside London and should increase out-of-London commissioning. There is an awful lot of talent out there, outside London as well as in it, and as a publicly owned public service broadcaster Channel 4 should do more for the entire nation, and should represent and reflect the voices of those who live outside the capital city. The Government are committed to that aim and to spreading opportunity throughout the United Kingdom, and we want Channel 4 to be a part of achieving it by stimulating creative and economic activity right across the country.
Last year, we ran a public consultation on the future of Channel 4. An overwhelming majority of respondents agreed that Channel 4’s regional impact would be much enhanced if more of its activities took place outside London and more of its staff were based outside London. I think we can all agree that it is not right that at the moment only 3% of Channel 4’s staff are based outside London. Public service broadcasting should mean serving the whole of the United Kingdom, not just those in the capital or indeed those in the bubble of Westminster.
Channel 4 spends around twice as much on programming made in London as it does on programming made in the rest of the United Kingdom combined. Its physical concentration in London is reflective of a wider trend in the broadcasting and production sector, where we have not hitherto seen an even distribution of growth. Although only 20% of the population of this country live in London and the south-east of England, over two thirds of UK producers are based there. It goes without saying that that limits the spread of jobs, prosperity and opportunity outside the capital in all our wonderful geographical locations, and also limits the representation of local views and local interests on television. People seeking to work in the media should not feel that they have to move to London to do so.
Channel 4’s series of proposals, announced in March, will help to reverse that trend. Channel 4 agreed to establish a new national headquarters in the nations and regions, with 300 staff outside London, including key creative decision makers. That number will also rise over time. Moreover, Channel 4 will establish two other smaller creative hubs across the UK. As a consequence, its London footprint will reduce and its headquarters in Horseferry Road will become its London HQ.
Channel 4 will also increase its out-of-London commissioning—this is very important—to more than 50%, stimulating the creative economy across the country. Channel 4 estimates that this will lead to £285 million more in spending out of London than is required by Ofcom. Channel 4 will strengthen its regional impact on screen by becoming the first channel to co-anchor its evening news bulletin from a new regional studio, which is also symbolic and important. It will help to provide a gateway for journalistic talent in the nations and regions to reach “Channel 4 News”. Channel 4’s proposals will mean visibly reflecting the regional diversity of our country, both on and off screen, and according to economic analysis that my Department has commissioned these measures could support an overall redistributive regional impact of close to 2,700 regional jobs.
Channel 4 launched its pitch process, as it is called, in April, inviting bids from cities across the United Kingdom to find the locations for its national HQ and creative hubs. This process is currently ongoing and will allow Channel 4 to carefully consider a range of different cities across the nations and regions. Following the completion of that bidding process, Channel 4 will look to announce its decisions by the autumn of this year and will be moving staff by the end of 2019.
I am sure that Channel 4 is paying close attention to the debate—during it, people have been doing some showreels to get on “Channel 4 News” tonight—and to all the pitches that it receives from across the spectrum, including, of course, from outside this Chamber. I am confident that it will receive impressive bids from across all of the United Kingdom.
This historic deal marks the start of a bright future for Channel 4. Since its establishment over 35 years ago, and I am old enough—just—to remember its opening day, Channel 4 has had an enduring impact on UK culture and UK society. I am sure that we will see it go from strength to strength under the imaginative new leadership of Alex Mahon. Channel 4’s remit includes requirements to be distinctive, to innovate, to promote alternative views and new perspectives, and to appeal to a culturally diverse society. As a result, it has often led the way in areas of diversity and in representing different communities, with groundbreaking shows, including some that have been mentioned today, such as “Queer as Folk”, “The Last Leg” and many others.
Channel 4’s regional proposals show that it is now leading the way in regional representation and that Channel Four Television Corporation is indeed a public service broadcaster that truly provides for the entire country that owns it, which is crucial. This deal will have far-reaching implications for the entire broadcasting sector—it is groundbreaking in that sense—and I hope that others will look to follow Channel 4’s bold lead.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to the debate this afternoon. When my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara), who is the Front-Bench spokesperson for my party, said to me at the start of this debate that he had arrived with an open mind, I was ready to shred his Celtic Park season ticket myself, but I am glad that he came down on the side of the angels in the end.
This has been an unusual debate, in that we have been asking things of people outwith this Chamber today; oh to be the Minister in a debate such as this, where there have been pretty much no asks of him whatsoever. Nevertheless, I genuinely thank colleagues for their many fine contributions, as they put forward their bids for their own home turf.
I will just end with one thing that Billy Connolly said about Glasgow, a place that he left to go and explore the world as a fantastic comedian but always loved to come home to. He said that when you arrive in Glasgow and step off the train at Glasgow Central station, it is the only city on Earth that you can feel rise up through the soles of your feet, and we invite Channel 4 to come and experience that.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the relocation of Channel 4.