Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420 - 439)


Ms Helen France, Sir Howard Bernstein and Mr John Willis

  Q420  Chairman: You have persuaded The Guardian to move back?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: We are talking to them.

  Q421  Chairman: Right. Salford, John Willis?

  Mr Willis: Chairman, I would just like to add my comments to Howard's. My emphasis and Howard's and Helen's is very much around transformational change here. We talk a lot about transformational change but this is one of those real opportunities in Greater Manchester. We have already seen a huge transformation in Manchester in the city centre, as Howard talked about, and this is an opportunity to further develop that transformation. It is also a transformational opportunity for the BBC and also for broadcasting in general. We have got a chance here to future-proof broadcasting in this country and maintain its status on a world stage. There is, as we all know, huge competition. Dubai and Seoul have got their media cities and I think we have got to be thinking at that level, and this presents that sort of opportunity. We are hoping between us as a partnership to be able to provide the BBC and the broadcasting world in general with that opportunity. We have now to be thinking about the next 10, 20 or 30 years and future-proofing is one of the key features.

  Q422  Chairman: And Manchester and Salford are working hand-in-hand?

  Mr Willis: We work together on so many issues. To be honest, very few people know where the exact boundary is between Manchester and Salford.

  Q423  Chairman: We had it pointed out to us this morning so we know one bit of it.

  Mr Willis: We are working together on housing regeneration along the River Irwell and the two cities coincide at the heart of the conurbation. We want what is best for Greater Manchester and for the North West and we will work to achieve that.

  Sir Howard Bernstein: It is not just Manchester and Salford. One of the clearly defined factors which effectuate this city region and others is the extent to which there are shared objectives around economic performance and social inclusion county-wide and how subregional structures integrate in the active pursuit of those shared objectives. That is something which we have worked very, very hard on over many years to get right.

  Q424  Chairman: As I understand what the BBC are saying, it is not just the North West; in a sense it is a hub which will take in Leeds, Newcastle, and places like that.

  Sir Howard Bernstein: Yes.

  Ms France: Can I respond to that, Chairman. As an RDA we are working very closely with the other two northern RDAs, particularly on the back of the Northern Way activity. There has been a small number of transformational activities that have been identified as really making a huge impact, outside of the geography of any of the individual regions, and the BBC move is one of those. We are working particularly closely with other RDAs and their partners to ensure that any benefits we get from this relocation spin out to hubs elsewhere such as Newcastle. The BBC has been very helpful and constructive in helping us do that.

  Q425  Chairman: They support that in the North East.

  Ms France: Totally. It has been seen very much as a key priority of the Northern Way and the coming together of the three regions.

  Q426  Bishop of Manchester: I am of course a symbol of unity because as Bishop of Manchester I live in Salford! You talked certainly in the Manchester evidence—but I am sure that Salford is in on this as well—about the kind of specific proposals that need to be made with the BBC about the move up here to Manchester or to Salford. I wonder if you could just expand a bit now on in a sense what is on the table from your point of view in order to be able to make the local partnership with the BBC work?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: When colleagues from the BBC started to engage with us some 12 months ago was a shared understanding at the outset was that we ought not just to be talking about a relocation of the BBC's operations to this part of the world. What we were all very clear about, having regard to the clear and defined BBC values, which were communicated in the recommendations about how you drive creative industries, how you support competition with the independents and how you secure greater public access, was that what we needed to do was to create something, as John has described, as being very, very special. So the concept of the Media Enterprise Zone emerged jointly in discussion with the BBC which would have a number of very discrete components: obviously purpose-built offices to enable the administrative and supporting infrastructure to be accommodated; but also the concept of shared technical facilities, involving the BBC and other broadcasters and users which would give the opportunity for sharing overheads; creating a platform to develop content and a whole range of different programmes; developing the opportunity to involve independent producers and, more specifically, the opportunity to innovate, which all of us accept is going to be a fundamental part of the growth of the media industry in the future. Another component of the Media Enterprise Zone would be flexible space which would provide a whole range of business support services including incubation, which is so important to small to medium-sized businesses who are wishing to develop and flourish in that sector. It would include a research centre which would provide the opportunity to make critical connections between technology and innovation and involve some of our world-class universities in this part of the world. Critically there are public access arrangements. The BBC have made it very, very clear that as part of their overall move to develop a comprehensive plan they wanted to examine different ways of engaging communities in programme content development. Our own strategies around community engagement and the whole question of the diversity of communities in this part of the world give us real opportunities to look at public access in a very sophisticated way. It would also allow us to do something which is very dear to all of our hearts in the public sector, which is to involve the cultural and media sector in the way in which we provide education in this country. That is something where at different stages of young people's development, there is the opportunity to excite and help innovate and promote a interest in media. All of these different components represent what we would describe as the Media Enterprise Zone and represent the justification for different levels of public funding support being provided.

  Q427  Bishop of Manchester: Those are the ideas; what are you as councils proposing to put into those ideas in practical cash terms?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: There is a general envelope of public funding which between us we identified as of the order of £50 million. As a council we are putting a significant contribution into that. The sorts of things that we would be looking at are support in the acquisition of land; funding support in helping to create the facilities; funding support to enable us to create the pathways in terms of skills development, people development and the making of connections with our wider public services such as education; but fundamentally to create the spatial focus around where the Media Enterprise Zone should go, and how we underpin skills and other types of development.

  Q428  Bishop of Manchester: Does John agree with that?

  Mr Willis: We operate on a very similar philosophy here. Everything that Howard has explained is something that is common right across the board in what we are trying to achieve here. I would just add that one of the important aspects concerns our universities. We have got between Manchester and Salford the largest campus in Europe and there is a huge talent there, and too many of our graduates leave the region. One of the benefits to us is the retention of high-calibre people who can lead and create and who can in turn help create jobs and wealth for the area.

  Q429  Lord Maxton: Could I just ask about that because obviously the economic impact will be much wider than just Manchester and Salford, although that is where you are involved. Are there discussions with other local authorities not just in the Lancashire area but also right through the whole North West because it will impact presumably in terms of the people living there, smaller companies working in other local authority areas? Having seen what they have done in Ireland in terms of offering location facilities for companies to come and film outside broadcasts, and so on, you are having discussions presumably?

  Ms France: Can I take up Lord Maxton's point. You are right, there are issues that go much wider than Manchester and Salford and there will be impacts as a result of this move that do go much broader and much wider than the supply issues, such as how we link into the supply chain and how we link into the higher education and further education facilities, and they will go wider than Manchester and Salford. For example, the University of Salford specialises particularly in media-related activities. We are already starting to have discussions with them about how we can utilise their facilities and how they can ensure that they are positioned to be able to provide the high-quality graduates that will be required for this. It is probably fair to say that our discussions with partners outside Manchester and Salford are at very early stages because we have been looking at the generic impact that can be of benefit as a result of the move and we have also been looking at very specific, site-related issues. We are now at the stage of going much broader into the Northern Way partners, as I have already mentioned, and also wider partners across the North West. We are very mindful of the need to do it and we have started to do it. We have still got some progress to make on that, but it is definitely a priority for us to do that.

  Q430  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: One of the NWDA requirements was the presence of thriving clusters of businesses with networks to support them. You have gone a little way along there but are you really convinced that the North West really has got developed clusters already which would effectively support the BBC move to Manchester? Are you pretty certain that it is there already, although you can obviously build on it?

  Ms France: As part of our regional economic strategy we have identified a range of clusters that will help us to generate this transformational change for the North West. It includes the creative industries and we are prioritising that within our new regional economic strategy and specifically referring to the role of the BBC in terms of that clustering of creative and cultural activity. I agree with you that it does go broader than that and the supply chain and education does go much broader than the direct creative industries. There are links into the legal services and financial services and other clusters that we are developing. We are confident that we have sufficient economic activity in the region to be able to support it as it stands now. We are also very mindful of the fact that we want to ensure that we are positioned properly for the transformational activity that will result from this. So we are working very hard with existing clusters to strengthen and develop them and also looking at what other work is needed on the back of it.

  Sir Howard Bernstein: Just to add to that, if I may. I think it is all about the development of critical mass and what we are already seeing within the North of England regional economy is very, very clear development in the creative industries, lots of activity which is increasing all the time. What this will enable us to do is make that step change and by synergising activities in the way I described earlier and by creating critical mass with the necessary public funding support and the pathways which are described, you get the critical point which then starts to drive change in a much wider way. The parallel I would draw is Manchester Airport. Manchester Airport, which was a major city asset 20 years ago, has now reached the threshold of international significance and it is now driving transformational change throughout the North of England.

  Mr Willis: The building blocks are already there. There are something like 63,000 people already employed in creative industries in Manchester so that is a substantial base from which to start. Something like 11 per cent of all new network programmes come out of the North West. That is growing at a rate of about 4 per cent a year. There is real impetus already there and, this is, as Howard says, about step change.

  Q431  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I worked here in the mid-1970s and I have seen huge changes and all of that would illustrate it, but looking to the BBC itself, what measures can they take to ensure that the existing businesses do have every opportunity to compete for support services contracts? Is there anything that you feel particularly the BBC itself needs to do?

  Mr Willis: I think it is really important that the BBC links in with the local authorities and links in with Manchester Enterprises and our economic drivers to ensure that those connections are made. Part of the bargain has to be that the BBC can source material—competitive, imaginative, creative material—and will look to this area as being part of their home.

  Sir Howard Bernstein: Can I just add one point to that. I think it is very, very important again (and I think it is foreshadowed in the papers which the BBC have produced) that in order to be able to secure the level of competition which is important and to be able to support the growth and development of the independent sector, we need a dynamic and healthy BBC being relocated to Manchester. I think that is a fundamental part of the total process.

  Q432  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Do you feel the will is there on the part of the BBC?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: I think the values which have been communicated in all the documents and in all the conversations we have had have been very, very strong and very, very exciting.

  Q433  Lord Maxton: What would be the impact if it did not come?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: It would be, in my view, a major lost opportunity not just in the context of national competitiveness strategies and Government targets around PSA2, the narrowing of regional economic differences between London and the rest of the country. There would be a huge question mark over the achievement of those strategies. I also think it would be a major lost opportunity in terms of how we can collectively shape the future of broadcasting and media-related activity in this country over the next 10 years.

  Q434  Lord Maxton: You have talked about the creative side and quite rightly so. I represented the City of Glasgow which also, in a sense, has regenerated itself through the creative arts, but in broadcasting media we now talk increasingly about convergence and that includes the development of broadband and whether we have the computer skills both in terms of the hardware and software, that will be required as part of the support structure? What are you doing to both roll out more broadband and also connect it to remoter areas and also in terms of developing the computer skills that will be required?

  Ms France: I accept totally the importance of broadband. If we are really going to have a sustainable economy in the North West we need broadband. The North West Development Agency has really focused on this and we have ensured that broadband access is available in even the most remote places. Ninety-eight per cent of Cumbria can now access high-quality broadband activity, which we firmly believe will enable strong business growth and entrepreneurial activity and drive businesses in areas which previously were unsustainable because they had no access to make the inward investment and export activity. We have already started to make that move and get that transition to make sure we are a fully functioning region that can take exactly the opportunities you have mentioned in terms of moving to convergence and exploiting the innovative activity that will hopefully arise as a result of the BBC move.

  Q435  Lord Maxton: You have not tried to attract Microsoft into the area?

  Ms France: We are.   Sir Howard Bernstein: We are talking to them.

  Chairman: You are doing a lot of talking, are you not? Hopefully it will deliver one day.

  Q436  Lord Maxton: On that point, do you think the BBC proposal to come here is more likely to attract companies like Microsoft?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: Undoubtedly.

  Mr Willis: Absolutely.

  Q437  Lord Maxton: Absolutely?

  Ms France: Yes.

  Q438  Chairman: To turn to another aspect, do I detect a certain uncertainty or at least not total certainty that the BBC are actually going to come to Manchester?

  Ms France: We are working on the assumption that they are coming to Manchester. That is the premise on which we are working and that is what we are here to deliver.

  Q439  Chairman: That is what you are expecting to happen?

  Ms France: Yes.

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