Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460 - 479)


Ms Helen France, Sir Howard Bernstein and Mr John Willis

  Q460  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Just one final question for Sir Howard. You explained very eloquently what the Media Enterprise Zone would provide for the BBC. In our last report we recommended that the BBC should develop shared centres of regional opportunity. Have you got evidence that the BBC is willing to allow local companies to share its resources?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: Yes, the whole concept of the Media Enterprise Zone is founded on those shared values and at all stages of this process the BBC have been open and highly co-operative in driving that ethos forward.

  Q461  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Do you see the BBC and Granada, for instance, sharing?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: I think from our side there is that presumption—although the precise form we need to work through—and it seems inconceivable to me that you can have a Media Enterprise Zone here in the Northwest that excludes Granada.

  Q462  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: And the BBC seem happy about that?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: In principle, yes.

  Q463  Lord Maxton: Does it include community involvement?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: Absolutely, the whole point about the concept is public access and the public ethos.

  Q464  Chairman: And is the BBC likely to gain from the Media Enterprise Zone? I can see other people will gain from it. Is the BBC going to gain? How is the BBC going to benefit?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: Efficiencies and the ability to engage and drive the creative agenda which it sets itself, the agenda for public access and community engagement; the way in which its programme content is more accurately reflective of the North of England. All of those are very, very clear outcomes.

  Mr Willis: I would add to that flexibility and future-proofing, to give the BBC that future-proofing that it really needs.

  Q465  Chairman: You see the future as far as Manchester is concerned, as far as the North is concerned very much in terms of partnership, at least production partnership between the BBC and ITV Granada?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: They would be at one. If you asked the BBC, they would attach, rightly so in my view, as much importance to partnership with technological providers having regard to the future dynamics of industry.

  Q466  Chairman: The situation is now that since the Communications Act that ITV could be bought by a foreign company. That would be a disaster, would it not, if that foreign company decided that the best way of delivering its production was to deliver (as Walt Disney delivers) its own production and not bother very much about local production?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: Yes inevitably, but again creating that diverse competitive bloc supports our own objectives as well as others.

  Q467  Lord Maxton: Just on that point I raised when you were saying you were talking to Microsoft, because this is always one of problems with this; would that be a new investment for Microsoft or would it be a relocation from somewhere else?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: We are not that far into the detail. We are meeting them on Friday.

  Q468  Lord Maxton: Presumably, if it is new investment in an area and if the BBC did not come here, they would not come here but they would not necessarily be locating somewhere else in the United Kingdom, they might very well be locating anywhere around the world?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: Exactly.

  Q469  Lord Peston: Can I go back to one other aspect of this which is sport. As I originally understood what was supposed to happen with relocation, sport was to be part of it?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: Yes.

  Q470  Lord Peston: We are talking now about the organisation of the broadcasting of sport, we are not going to insist that everything is played here.

  Sir Howard Bernstein: Pity!

  Q471  Lord Peston: I cannot see any comparative advantage at all in sport being located in London for example. Are you assuming therefore that sport really will come here and will become, as it were, the centre starting with the BBC but then perhaps others as well?

  Mr Willis: We stress that—and I think Helen said at the beginning—that our worst fear is that we get little bits. We need that massing and sport is an essential, key component then of that.

  Q472  Lord Peston: From your side of how you do it, what is your contribution in facilitating that happening? I can see the desirability and I had assumed, to go back to my original economics question, there should be very considerable cost savings in having the thing located up here rather than of all places London. What do you do to facilitate or condition the contribution that you can specifically make?

  Mr Willis: That will be wrapped up in the package that the RDA and specific councils are putting together here.

  Q473  Lord Peston: That will become more specific the closer we get to the thing?

  Mr Willis: Yes.

  Q474  Lord Peston: Are you optimistic about it happening?

  Mr Willis: Yes. We are not sure the BBC is going to pay us to come up here but we are working on it.

  Lord Peston: Thank you for that.

  Chairman: Any other questions from anyone?

  Q475  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Can I ask one so that I am quite clear. The impression I got was that if the BBC do come here that that will reduce quite considerably the likelihood of ITV being a target for takeover that could not be resisted, as it were. Are you saying that?

  Sir Howard Bernstein: No, I could not say that. What I was trying to say is that at the present time having regard to existing activities within this part of the world there is a presumption in favour of ITV's participation within the Media Enterprise Zone. None of us would say there is not likely to be the potential for very significant structural changes which ITV, or for that matter the industry itself, will go through over the next five to 10 years. My point is that synergies created through the Media Enterprise Zone will deliver better competition, and being inter-dependent will allow for the impact of any hostile takeovers in the way that was put to me to be mitigated.

  Q476  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Is that the view of everyone?

  Mr Willis: We all share the attitude that we all want to take advantage of the opportunity there is.

  Q477  Chairman: And hope for the best?

  Mr Willis: No, plan for the best.

  Q478  Bishop of Manchester: When the move up here was mooted at the beginning, the BBC Ariel magazine found it necessary to invite someone from the BBC here to persuade people in the South that Manchester or Salford was not quite so bad as they might think. Have you any evidence in the negotiations that you have been having since those initial days that there is still among people in London a really quite serious desire not to come up North?

  Ms France: I will start on that one. I think we were mindful of that response as well we have worked hard with the BBC provide information and understanding of the reality of the North West, not just Manchester. We have focused on education provision, housing provision, the ability of partners to get jobs, the quality of life, environmental issues and so on. We have had to counter that misconception and provide hard facts. That has been successful. We will continue to do that as we go through the process because it is about countering prejudice.

  Mr Willis: We have to understand that change is never easy for people anyway and there will be a number of people who for valid personal reasons will find it difficult to relocate. I guess the BBC will have to accept that. But what we can put to bed is this fear or myth about the North and actually just talk about some of the fantastic achievements in Greater Manchester, the North West and what a great environment we have got up here. Some people might have personal reasons why a relocation is not appropriate; others will be more flexible.

  Q479  Chairman: This is not just a media issue, you have this issue with anyone and any company that relocates here?

  Mr Willis: Absolutely.

  Sir Howard Bernstein: That is one of the big challenges we had to confront with the Bank of New York which relocated out of London, and the sort of processes which Helen has rightly described are ones we undertook ourselves and that has proved to be very, very successful. The Manager of the Bank of New York branch up here does not want to go back.

  Chairman: I represented a Birmingham constituency for 27 years. Outside London we all have these problems, do we not? Newcastle, Leeds, everyone does, even Scotland has it.

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