Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500 - 519)


Ms Susan Woodward, Ms Alice Morrison, Mr Andrew Critchley and Mr Mike Spencer

  Q500  Chairman: It is very interesting what both of you are saying because you are obviously very slim-line certainly compared with the numbers we are normally used to dealing with, but when you come to a production, whether it is a documentary or whether it is drama, there is no difficulty in finding the skills to actually produce the programmes?

  Mr Spencer: No. You will be aware that in the media industry there is a lot of mobility amongst the labour force, perhaps to a regrettable extent but that just reflects the vicissitudes of commissioning and the business these days. It is a very large freelance market.

  Q501  Lord Maxton: Who trains these skilled staff? The BBC have a reputation for doing it. Are they the only people doing it?

  Ms Woodward: They are not the only people. In this region, Granada train more freelance staff than any other media organisation. We commit around about 1,100 training days per year to purely train the freelance sector in this region. That is because we require their skills to be as good as our internal staff's skills are and we need to equip the freelance staff with the same skills. Also Granada help train the freelance staff for everybody in the market although we incur all the costs.

  Q502  Chairman: Obviously as you employ more I suppose logically one would expect you to train more.

  Ms Woodward: Yes, absolutely but we have a training ethos behind it. We believe the best programmes can only be made with the best technology but because technology changes so rapidly in our industry training is an on-going commitment and you have to train otherwise you cannot deliver the quality of product.

  Q503  Chairman: You do not mind? The normal complaint about training is you train someone up and immediately they go off and join Red or someone like that.

  Mr Critchley: But they go back then because we do not employ them all the time. We employ nine people all the time and our average over the past seven years, totting up what we have made over the years, we are coming up to our hundredth hour of drama, which, you are probably aware, is the most expensive form, and our £75th million worth of production. On average over the last seven years our payroll has probably been around 120 given that productions start and end at different times.

  Q504  Chairman: I know you said you did not always come to the North West, you did not always base your productions in the North West; am I right in that?

  Mr Critchley: Wherever possible we do.

  Q505  Chairman: What I was going to ask was is there any reluctance to move to the North West? Is there reluctance from people to work in and around Manchester?

  Mr Critchley: From freelancers?

  Q506  Chairman: Yes?

  Mr Critchley: No.

  Q507  Chairman: None whatsoever?

  Mr Critchley: We have attracted both production crew and talent. Last year we had Peter O'Toole here which took a lot of doing but we got him here. We get key talent from wherever we find them.

  Ms Morrison: Can I answer about crew because we run a database for freelancers and we have got 1,500 people on it just from the North West all of whom have had a new television credit in the past six months which means they are working all the time.

  Q508  Chairman: They are freelancers?

  Ms Morrison: They are freelancers but they come through and they go to all the broadcasters and all the independents. The second thing I would like to add which I think is very, very important for this move, is that Manchester is here, Leeds is here, Liverpool is here and the North is up here, so basically people come in. It takes me less time to get from Leeds to Manchester than it used to take me to get from Camden to Shepherd's Bush when I worked for the BBC in London. That is just fact.

  Q509  Chairman: You are luckier on that journey than I am.

  Ms Woodward: Could I just add on training freelance staff, Granada has no problem about training freelance staff, we are very happy to share that with Red Productions or MMA or anybody else who is based in the North West. What is a struggle for us is we train staff and invest sometimes years of time and cashflow and they drift slowly to London because there is not sufficient work here to utilise the skill base that we are training for.

  Q510  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Speaking as someone whose career has been in television production, I understand exactly what you are saying, but it does expose something which is that it is a very mobile workforce and you do tend to use people you work well with and who have done good jobs, so in a way it is a fallacy that moving a lot of production here is going to mean a lot of work for people based here because everyone moves around a lot anyway.

  Mr Critchley: A lot of talent moved to London in the first place, it was not all born in London. It follows the work and all the work should be spread out and television should reflect the whole country back on itself.

  Q511  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: But the people you are going to be employing are not necessarily going to come from this area.

  Ms Woodward: Not to start with but once we entice them back to this area they will stay.

  Mr Critchley: They may well have been born here in the first place.

  Ms Woodward: Mike and I are very good examples of that. Mike and I started our careers at Granada Manchester. We both then went at different times to the BBC in this building. I then went to London because at that time—and it probably still holds true—if you did not make the grade in London you were seen as somebody who was just a regional player.

  Q512  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: This is working for Granada?

  Ms Woodward: The BBC. I have worked for ITV, the BBC and Channel Four. There is still, I think, a perception as a professional broadcaster that unless you have worked for some time in London, you are not as good or as creative or as talented as the people there. Basically, as Andrew says, people follow the work and therefore the more work we can bring to this region and the more sustainable production, people can actually put roots down, buy a house, have a partner, have children who go to schools rooted within this region. We have managed to do it, but for other people to do that who want to share a different quality of life in this part of the UK, there needs to be more sustainable production.

  Q513  Bishop of Manchester: Let's look into the crystal ball (which is probably a phrase I ought not to be using and certainly not on public record) let's imagine that the BBC has arrived here in Manchester with the move about which we know and the hub is underway. What from your point of view do you anticipate will be the difference in how you operate, and how broadcasting as a whole in the North West will be affected? I imagine there will be big changes. Could you just spell some of them out for us.

  Ms Woodward: As part of ITV's 50th anniversary which is this year, in case you had not noticed, we commissioned an economic impact study for ITV Granada to see what the value is of ITV Granada's physical presence to the region and we have submitted copies as evidence to the Committee today. The major findings of that are our physical presence here creates economic value in the region of £127 million and because we are here we create and support 4,500 jobs, both internally and down the supply chain. Our wages and salaries alone are £34 million and our gross spend in the regional economy about £67 million. We spend a great deal with local suppliers. We are a real economic generator for the economy of this region. We can do that with a staff of 1,200 people based on the amount of hours that we do. If we imagine the BBC arrive here with 1,600 new jobs and also the commissioning and we put those two parts together, the multiplier effect on the economy of this region would be enormous. The first impact would be enormous economic growth. Secondly, we will be able to, hopefully, retain the talent in which we invest and train and share with our colleagues in the independent sector. Hopefully then, we will therefore be able to attract new talent back to the north, their homeland, or people who feel there is a new buzz and excitement and energy about the region. With the economic impact and talent impact we think we can be the UK's premier creative city and as a result attract new and emerging industries. Google have recently opened an office in Manchester. The Bank of New York have made their European base in Manchester in July of next year. So we are already seen as a magnet for emerging and new industries in the creative sector and the financial sector that support those. For me the BBC arriving here would not just take us on a journey that is already underway, because together we already make a powerful creative cluster, the BBC arriving here will jettison us into the future whereby we may take 25 or 30 years to get there with the current creative sector we have, but we could achieve that in four or five years.

  Q514  Bishop of Manchester: Would anybody else like to come in on that?

  Ms Morrison: I think there is a very significant cultural argument here in that we live in difficult times when citizenship and community cohesion are incredibly important and it is important that the region speaks for the nation as well. We are the North and we have a North-South divide, I do not think you can deny that. I think it is extremely important that we are represented on the screen and use the talent we have and start working with communities that traditionally have been neglected by the media in the media. Also very importantly the way we do that is not through anything patronising or boring or the same as it has always been. It is using new technology, it is using innovation, and it is using the departments the BBC is planning to bring up here because they are the departments of the future. So let's start using that to really grow something different and what I would like to see happen is not only that the BBC grows Manchester but we need to change broadcasting. We are a centre of innovation, we always have been, and that is what we should be drawing on and pumping through. As well as an economic argument, which I completely support, I do think there is that other wider argument that we should be becoming—

  Ms Woodward: Alice is absolutely right, we are very mindful of that at ITV Granada for two reasons, not purely altruistic but also from a sound business point of view. We know that we need to make our programmes as relevant to as wide a sector of society as we can otherwise that sector of society that chooses not to watch us because they do not feel represented will simply turn to watching other broadcasters and we will lose advertising revenue as a consequence of that. It is very important that our programmes at the moment diversify into modern day UK plc. That does not happen by default. You have to take radical action to make those things happen. ITV Granada have embarked this year on a scheme going into next year to tackle that directly. We went out to communities all over the North West based on black and ethnic minority groups and we have interviewed 1,000 young people to give them a one-year bursary opportunity at Granada, to come and work on a salaried basis to be trained, to be mentored, with no guarantee of a job at the end of this one year experience but at least they will have their foot in the door. The young people we have taken on have first-class degrees from Oxbridge and they have never ever been able to get through the front door. That is our industry's issue and we know that is something we need to tackle. If we could extend that programme in year two and we have an expanding BBC in the future (we already roll the scheme across independent colleagues) it will make an enormous difference to the make-up in the future of the indigenous broadcasters and what ultimately we see on our screens.

  Q515  Bishop of Manchester: You will appreciate that I have to be very careful not to hand opportunities to you to say how marvellous Manchester is! I really do now want to explore what are inevitably some minuses in all this and ask you, given all the advantages that you have very helpfully outlined about coming here with the media hub and everything, what disadvantages do you see might arise over all this or is it a completely happy path ahead with no problems—and I cannot believe it?

  Mr Spencer: Speaking as an independent particularly one working in the area of factual documentary and drama documentary, none of the departments moving up here will be much use to me and my company and so I will continue to help out Richard Branson by going down the Virgin West Coast Line at least three or four times a month. So although the BBC's presence in Manchester will do all the things as described and a lot more, from my own point of view it is perhaps a shame that more commissioning power is not being brought up here. I know there is within sport and CBBC but perhaps across other genres.

  Q516  Chairman: Just explain to us what you mean by that?

  Mr Spencer: I spend a lot of time going down talking to commissioning editors within factual departments of the BBC and none of those departments are moving north and so from my point of view—and I suspect it is the same Andrew and drama commissioning—I will still spend a lot of time travelling to London and being slightly the country mouse turning up in the big city and having our meetings in White City and scurrying off to Euston. I do not think that will change a lot. There are companies based in Manchester who make children's programmes and no doubt that will help them a lot, but the vast majority in terms of volume of hours remains, I would think, within factual programming and the commissioning process for that remains in London.

  Q517  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Can I ask that question back to front perhaps of Mr Critchley with your Pact hat on and as a drama producer. Is there a concern that because the BBC is such a big beast and it comes here with its specific departments that this becomes an area for niche production, if you see what I mean, so that drama is driven out and the production companies here concentrate on the particular areas that the BBC are commissioning from here?

  Mr Critchley: I do not think there is any danger of us deciding not to produce in the drama genre as a result, but our commissioning does come from London, so our trips to London to secure those commissions mean less money goes on screen. The BBC have recently commissioned a long-running series or a potentially long-running series from us and from other producers in the North. As far as Pact is concerned, Pact would strongly back the move because the talent pool that would be attracted back here is flexible within genres. You can point the same camera or roughly the same camera at a drama production as a children's production. You hold the sound boom in the same place to record Bob the Builder as you do to record Clocking Off.

  Q518  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: You are obviously an established company, but in the future will the kind of production companies that will set up here be ones that are dealing with sport and children's production?

  Ms Morrison: In 2002 we did a survey of the independents in the North West and there were 70 independent production companies, of which only four had a turnover of over £4 million a year. Because of the BBC move and because we have started to try actively to get companies to set up a base here, that situation has completely transformed and they are across genre. Because of the Communications Act broadcasters have a regional quota, so regardless companies are now taking advantage of that and what they are saying is, "Right, we have got to do something in the regions," if we are being honest they are saying, "Oh no, we have got to do something in the regions, we have got to leave the comfort of where we are so where we are going to do it . . ." and they go right across the country but they also look for a sustainable hub. I think that is the point. Having a big beast, or in fact two big beasts because you do have Granada Productions here as well, and having some really solid companies sat here on either side of me is enough to be attractive. It is not like you are going somewhere where there is no television production. So I think that is very important. There is also no doubt that it would offer incredible benefits to all the independents were a channel to move here with the commissioning power and what it brings with it. It may not bring lots of people but it would bring spend and it would bring spend across genres. There is no doubt that would help the independent sector tremendously.

  Q519  Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Following up a point on that because obviously the Communications Act has made a big difference in that respect, just thinking about the plus side, if the BBC comes and if they get settled in and everything works out well, presumably it might even influence some of the factual news side to think of having a rather bigger presence here, so it might—might it, I am asking you—have an impact?

  Mr Spencer: I think we would really hope that that would be the case. There is a factual presence already in Manchester. I am not sure of the number of people they employ but there is a successful current affairs and news successful presence up here. I used to work for it some years ago until the BBC in its wisdom decided that religion and entertainment programmes should replace current affairs up here.

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