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Moving Channel 4 to Leeds will raise local government voices

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LGC’s essential daily briefing.

Britain’s media, much like its government, is notoriously clustered in London.

National newspapers, though no longer all situated around Fleet Street, still have their headquarters in the capital, a legacy of the fact trains could speed early editions to all corners of the UK even before the digital age. Unsurprisingly, they pay more attention to their home city.

That local newspapers have withered as publishers consolidated in various hubs is likewise an apt parallel for how central government has forced local government to cut back services. The BBC has been forced to sponsor local democracy reporters to improve coverage of councils and courts.

Today’s announcement that Channel 4 will move its headquarters from London to Leeds, and establish creative hubs in Glasgow and Bristol, is thus a welcome and overdue move to further rebalance the country’s media.

Explaining the move, Alex Mahon, Channel 4 chief executive, said: “Leeds put forward a compelling and ambitious strategy for how they could work alongside Channel 4 to further build the strong independent production sector in the city and develop new diverse talent from across the region.

“Locating our national HQ in Leeds enables us to capitalise on a strong and fast-growing independent production sector in cities across the North of England – and also has the potential to unlock growth in the North East and East of the country, an area without a major presence from other national broadcasters.”

Under the plan some 300 jobs will be moved to Leeds, Glasgow and Bristol, with staff expected to relocate in the second half of 2019. More symbolically, Channel 4’s nightly news programme will be co-anchored from Leeds.

The Leeds base will inevitably draw comparisons with the BBC and ITV quarters in Salford Quays. Indeed Joanne Roney, Manchester City Council’s chief executive, tweeted: “If it wasn’t to be Manchester, I’m pleased to see the decision for Channel 4 go to Leeds as we can continue to strengthen Northern Powerhouse opportunities between our great cities.”

In combination, the spreading of media hubs across the UK harkens back to the previous days of federal ITV, in which channel three programming was branded differently depending on what region you were watching it from. Among these were Anglia for the East of England, Central for the Midlands, and Yorkshire for the historic county.

The internet has profoundly changed the way people consume media. But the case for spreading media production throughout the country to promote a regional balance of views remains strong, particularly given local government’s warnings that cuts will increasingly draw blood. Anything that exposes more of the media to the impact of austerity outside of London must be welcomed, and has the potential to help the sector press its case to be put on a more sustainable financial footing. 

Perhaps the only caveat is that the choice of relocating to Leeds undercuts the case for a cheerleading combined authority mayor in the style of the West Midland’s Andy Street (Con) and Greater Manchester’s Andy Burnham (Lab). Both regions ultimately lost out to Leeds whose West Yorkshire CA lacks such a figure, although not due to a lack of local effort, especially in recent months on the One Yorkshire bid. Doncaster MBC chief executive Jo Miller tweeted today’s decision “only makes our #OneYorks case even more compelling”.

The case for further government investment in infrastructure, including Northern Powerhouse Rail, is surely also strengthened. 

Not all is lost for the also-rans. Mr Mahon said he hoped to “continue discussions with all of them about how we can develop new partnerships with each of their cities – particularly since we will be spending up to £250m more in the nations and regions over the next five years”.

If Britain is to properly balance the voice of its regions, more of this will need to happen. 

Jimmy Nicholls, features editor

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