Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by North West Vision

INTRODUCTION

  North West Vision was asked to prepare this submission in preparation for the Select Committee visit to Manchester. The paper covers the role of North West Vision, the current state of the TV industry in the Northwest, the potential benefits of the BBC's planned Move North and some of the issues that have arisen surrounding the proposal.

NORTH WEST VISION

  North West Vision is the screen agency for England's Northwest. Our job is to develop the TV, film and digital media industries in the region.

  We have four main areas of activity:

    —  Investing in high growth companies to increase production in the region, create jobs, grow capacity and offer opportunities for all.

    —  Investing in new talent, particularly writers, directors and producers.

    —  Attracting production to the region and making it as easy as possible for companies to work here in order to grow inward investment.

    —  Developing new audiences, increasing inclusiveness and access for previously under-represented groups.

  We are funded by DCMS through the UK Film Council, the local and city authorities, DTI, the North West Development Agency and European Structural Funds and our annual budget is £3 million—most of which we invest.

  We are industry-based and industry focused but follow a public sector agenda aimed at developing the media industry. Our Board and Staff have all worked within production or economic development. Our Chairman, Steve Morrison, heads up the largest independent TV production company in the UK.

  We have a client-base of 3,000 programme and filmmakers across the Northwest and work closely with all the broadcasters, including the BBC.

  We believe that our value to this committee is that we straddle the private and public sector, production and broadcasting, we are independent, we know the industry regionally, nationally and internationally, and we have a national perspective as well as a regional role.

BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE TV INDUSTRY IN THE NORTHWEST

  The Northwest is the largest hub of TV production outside London. According to OFCOM, 11 per cent of all new networked programmes are made in the Northwest. This translates into £429 million worth of production and 1,310 hours of network television.

  This strength is based on inhouse production for the BBC and Granada (which has produced more programmes in Manchester this year than ever before) and also some strong independent production companies (indies). The crew and facilities base in the region is comprehensive and highly experienced.

  The Northwest is famous for its excellence in drama (Cracker, Prime Suspect, Clocking Off, Queer as Folk, Blackpool, Second Coming) and soaps (Coronation Street, Grange Hill, Brookside, Hollyoaks). It is also home to some very popular animation (Bob the Builder) and is growing a reputation with new markets in cable and satellite for programmes like Most Haunted—which has the biggest cable/satellite audience viewing figures in the UK.

  The change in the terms of trade for independent production companies and the increased regional quotas imposed by OFCOM have created a climate of opportunity for Manchester to attract larger companies to base here and indigenous companies to grow. This has been given enormous impetus by the BBC Move North. In addition, North West Vision has been able to invest in 24 high growth TV companies this year, which will create an increase in their turnover by an estimated £20 million.

BENEFITS OF THE BBC MOVE NORTH

. . . for the BBC

Innovation, change and opportunity

  Manchester already has a solid production infrastructure and a significant production base, which make it possible for the BBC to move, and make it the natural choice for such a large presence outside London. It wouldn't be possible to consider this size of move without a pre-existing sustained sector.

  Manchester is the gateway to the North. The two other main production centres, Leeds and Liverpool are 45 minutes away so the BBC can easily access talent, crews and facilities across a wide area.

  Diverse communities, new talent, new voices and the creativity of the North will mean even better programmes.

  The BBC will win new audiences—traditionally northern viewers have preferred ITV.

  Manchester has the highest student density in the UK which gives the BBC access to the brightest young graduates.

  The move will offer the BBC the opportunity to change, and to develop new working practices, increase openness and access.

  There are enormous partnership opportunities for the BBC as both the public agencies in the Northwest and the production businesses are firmly behind the move and willing to do their utmost to make it happen.

. . . for Manchester/the North

Jobs, economic development and cultural representation

  The creative/knowledge industries are a target area for growth in Manchester and the Northwest as traditional industries face challenges. The TV production sector leads on this growth, as it produces sound economic benefit, high GVA, and boosts other industries (design, music, advertising etc) through its work. The BBC will be the "big beast" which will actually create the market and conditions for the whole sector to grow significantly.

  Although Manchester's TV production sector is strong, it is small compared to London and the move will provide the impetus needed for a real expansion in the private sector. We are predicting an increase in £20 million in the independent production sector alone in 2006-07 in advance of the move.

  The move will provide skilled jobs and career opportunities to new graduates, and previously excluded communities. It will help stop the brain drain to London and will make Manchester a magnet for talent.

  As more production is made here, the diverse, and currently under-represented, communities of the North will be given a face and a voice.

It is already working . . .

  We have already begun to see the benefits of the announced move to Manchester by the BBC and its push to encourage production in the region ahead of this move. This year, we have recorded an extraordinary 30 per cent rise in production through Manchester, which is already the busiest production centre outside London. This means a huge increase of spend into the economy and within the sector.

  This production benefit is being felt across the Northwest with a 20 per cent rise in Liverpool and a 45 per cent rise in Lancashire. In addition we have been able to attract four major London companies to open Northern branch offices in the city. We have also had two new local TV company start ups—one headed up by a member of the BME community the other by a woman (both traditionally under-represented).

  BBC drama and comedy have already located commissioning staff in Manchester who now work the whole of the North to find new writers, talent and programmes.

  As of today (7 November) there are 10 major new social dramas filming in the region using local talent, crew and facilities and telling the stories of the country that we live in. Jimmy McGovern's new series for the BBC, "The Street", is now in preparation and is set to become a landmark for life, today, in the UK.

. . . for the UK

addressing the north/south divide, community cohesion, equality of opportunity

  The Move North is just part of the BBC's programmes to democratise its services and production. By creating a large and vibrant centre outside London, the BBC starts to address the over-investment in the south of England, with its attendant privileges and drawbacks, and to bring more balance to its coverage of the UK.

  The Move North means a positive shift in focus by the BBC, both in terms of working in partnership with the independent companies, other broadcasters and with public agencies, this will lead to a stronger national industry.

  The issue of community cohesion and citizenship needs to be addressed urgently, and so it is crucial to represent Britain in all its diversity through its biggest broadcaster and most popular media. This cannot be done from London alone.

PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

The BBC will water down its commitment, saying it's too expensive

  This is the biggest fear of the sector who are concerned that the BBC may just be using the proposals to move as a pawn in its desire for a good licence fee agreement and that it will renege on its proposals.

  We would ask that the government make it a condition of the licence fee settlement that the BBC carries out the move—to the scale it has agreed.

The BBC will use the Olympics as an excuse not to move Sport and 5Live

  For the development of the sector and the North, the important point is that the BBC moves both commissioning power/budget and inhouse staff to Manchester—and to the scale it has committed to.

Lack of capacity in the Northwest

  There is some concern that if 1,800 broadcast jobs are moved by the BBC, and 900 need to be filled locally, there will not be the ability to do that. North West Vision and the rest of the public sector in the Northwest is now working with the local industry, the BBC and the HE/FE sector to ensure that skilled capacity continues to be built in the run up to 2010, and that opportunities are extended across all communities.

Choice of site for the proposed new centre

  There are a number of sites under consideration, all of which have strong credentials for different reasons. The Northwest Development Agency has already pledged a £50 million investment into the development of a site which will bring together the BBC, the independent TV companies and potentially other broadcasters/media enterprises. The important thing is that the site is open to the wider industry, is fit for purpose, and carries with it regeneration benefits.

The move only benefits Manchester

  Manchester's central location means that the proposed move actually works for a much wider constituency. Crew and talent from across Yorkshire, the Midlands and into the Northeast are within easy commuting distance. It takes the same time to get from Leeds to Manchester as it does from Hampstead to Shepherd's Bush.

CONCLUSION

  The BBC Move North will have a hugely beneficial impact both economically and culturally on the North of England, centred around Manchester. It will bring highly skilled jobs and opportunities to the North and will stimulate the growth of a vibrant and high-value sector—the creative industries. In addition it will benefit the BBC by opening up a new talent base, production hub and opportunities for access and engagement.

November 2005





 
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