Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520
TUESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2005
Ms Susan Woodward, Ms Alice Morrison, Mr Andrew Critchley
and Mr Mike Spencer
That takes us on to another part of our inquiry.
Mr Spencer: Please allow me to give evidence
to that part as well. I think the hope would be with a critical
mass up here and the BBC in London recognising Manchester as a
significant output and base, that then additional work would come
into areas of factual programming, current affairs, and the rest.
Just as a matter of fact so I can get my mind entirely round the
commissioning process, how long does it take to a get a programme
Ms Woodward: Forever.
Obviously it could take a vast amount of time but how much would
you reckon an average programme would take you?
Mr Spencer: If you hit lucky, and a lot of what
our job is is to see which door is the most likely to open, and
if you hit that door and you are fortunate, three months. I think
on average it is probably between six and nine months.
In those six to nine months or in those three/six/nine months,
is there a constant process of toing and froing?
Mr Spencer: E-mailing and proposals and meetings,
That is a long time. Is that the same in drama?
Mr Critchley: Do you mean to get to what we
call a green light or to get the programme on the screen?
I really meant to get to the green light, to get to the authorisation
for this thing to go ahead.
Mr Critchley: It can be a couple of years.
Q526 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
That is what I would have thought.
Mr Critchley: Especially given there are scripts
to write and notes to consider from commissioners and episodic
scripts to have ready for the start of the production, because
we do not film things in linear order, we film all the scenes
in this place today and move on so they are filmed out of sequence,
so it could be a long haul.
Mr Spencer: It took Celador three years to get
Who Wants to be a Millionaire? commissioned. In retrospect
which broadcaster would turn that down? But they all did, including
ITV. It was only when personnel changed that the programme was
To put it at a more modest level, say you wanted a current affairs
programme on how to get into the House of Lords, you would do
a certain amount of work on it, does that work get recompensed?
What happens if at the end of the day the BBC or Granada says,
"It is all very interesting but, thank you, no"?
Mr Spencer: That is your bad luck really. In
the case of how to get into the House of Lords, that is probably
a subject you would think was a long shot and you would not devote
too much time to it, forgive me, but, no, you are not recompensed,
although you can get (and we have received it from the BBC and
other broadcasters) some development money which will allow you
to bring on researchers to go further with the subject.
Chairman: I just think you rather have
conservative ideas about what programmes to put out!
Q528 Lord Maxton:
You obviously and quite rightly are very forceful (I will not
say aggressive) in trying to improve creative arts. I can understand
why most of us are probably sympathetic to you taking jobs from
London, although I think there are people in London who might
say, "We are licence fee payers as well and we are entitled
to at least some of the money." Is there a danger you are
beginning to take it from other parts of the United Kingdom who
may feel just as deprived as you do? I represented a Glasgow constituency
and I think the creative arts in Glasgow might begin to say Manchester
is getting more than its fair share.
Ms Woodward: Pat Loughrey said at the dinner
last night that the BBC in Northern Ireland (I think) received
£1.4 million to underpin regional production which for the
population of Northern Ireland would seem to be, as Pat said himself,
a generous settlement, to say the least. I think then again in
Scotland, which is a very different constituency, you have BBC
Scotland which is very proactive in that area, also Scottish Television
and Grampian and so it has extremely robust independent and commercial
and state-financed broadcasting. In addition to that, Channel
Four have chosen Glasgow of all the regions and all the nations
to set up a research centre which helps to create mini hubs in
that city by giving researchers an opportunity to get access to
resources, to facts, to business information, and so Scotland
of all of the regions and nations in the United Kingdom is probably
one that is best served. But, yes, if you had a constituency in
Birmingham, I would think you would make a good point. At the
end of the day, if the cake is sliced in such thin ways that it
is spread equitably across the UK you will never create a creative
cluster, and without a creative cluster you will never create
the critical mass of the component parts which will deliver more
in terms of creative output than those independent and separate
divisions. The cake cannot be spread to everybody and the jam
cannot be spread that thin if you want to make an impact and grow
the creative industries. At the end of the day it is a business
that makes money for this country and we are an export industry
as well as an internal industry, and that is a hard choice we
have to make.
Ms Morrison: I am one of nine regional screen
agencies across England and they are all behind this move. Again
looking at the figure of £1.4 billion made in London, we
are the next biggest at £210 million. There is such an imbalance
that what the region believes is this is going to change the psychology
behind it and make innovation more important. The BBC is committed
to working more openly, to doing more partnership, to doing more
training, looking at new ways of producing programmes, and that
will benefit all of us because all the regions are hungry and
proactive and we need it more so we work harder to get it. That
is where we see the value of this move partly coming. Also If
I could just say on regional production, 17 per cent is guaranteed
to the nations and that is a nice figure. So Glasgow is doing
alright, and I can say that as a Scot.
Q529 Lord Maxton:
It is doing alright. Whether it is doing the right thing is another
matter. But can I switch back to you in a sense. One of your jobs
is obviously television and broadcasting but also it is to attract
film makers. Will this move of the BBC here, who are film producers
as well on occasions, help you in that job, attracting people
to come and make films here?
Ms Morrison: We hope so. Film is more difficult
because for television there is an easier market, it is there
and it spends money. Film is much more risky so it is more difficult
to sell in some cases. This year the BBC have put £10 million
into film and next year they are looking at putting £40 million
in, which will make a significant difference. And Mark Thompson
is talking about regional voices being represented right across
the nations of the region. Film is a very important cultural dialogue
and I think that would be excellent. The other thing that we think
we would like to work on is using digital technology and here
the skills are the same. For example, the quality on big dramas
is easily as good as film, it is fantastic. What we would like
to see is a crossover from the high-end dramas, which is a strength
here already into film and also using the new technology. In that
way I think it will encourage the BBC to spend more on indigenous
film, film from the United Kingdom, which would be a really good
Q530 Lord Maxton:
What about actual facilities? Everybody talks about Braveheart
being a great Scottish film but of course it was made in Ireland,
it was not made in Scotland at all. The reason it was made in
Ireland was because there was a sound state facility just south
of Dublin which was not there in Scotland. Do you require that
any more or are you saying that digital technology now makes these
big indoor facilities unnecessary?
Ms Morrison: For film, if you invest, for example,
there is a great big new film studio built outside Cardiff, you
just have to look at populating that. With film, the issues are
always much bigger. I am sure you know this already but, for example,
at the moment a big film studio like Pinewood is suffering purely
because the pound is high and there is no clarity over tax breaks
so the larger economic picture can have an effect on what happens
at a national and regional level. It depends what kind of film
you think would usefully be made here and how the industry is
going as a whole because there is an enormous difference between
a £1 million/£2 million film and the big blockbusters.
That probably does not answer your question but it is as near
as I can get.
Q531 Lord Maxton:
The Irish Government also allowed them to use the Irish Army as
Ms Morrison: And producers follow the money.
If there are tax breaks it acts as an incentive, particularly
Can I just ask you one question, you said there were nine screen
Ms Morrison: Yes.
Is that not just a recipe for doing what Susan Woodward was saying
we should not be doing and that is trying to spread the jam thinly
round the nation? Because certainly when it comes to government,
one has the awful feeling they will say if there are nine we must
give a little there, a little there and a little there. Is that
not how it works?
Ms Morrison: Not really because it is about
sustainability and this is the credible centre because it has
that sustainable infrastructure and long history and the talent
base, the production that is already going on. The nine screen
agencies across the nation concentrate on different areas according
to what their regions particularly need so, for example, in the
South East they are concentrating more on the film production
because they have the large studios there. All the nine agencies
back this move.
You do not think we would do better as a nation to have three
or four major centres of excellence of which Manchester is obviously
Ms Morrison: To some extent, if you are honest
about this, if you look at London as the first, Manchester as
the second and Glasgow as the third, yes, I think it is good and
three would be a good number. More than that we are only a tiny
island and you would be dissipating too much so, yes, but I think
that has already happened.
You think that as well, Susan?
Ms Woodward: Before you think about or consider
actually decreasing the amount of film councils you would have
to create the centres of excellence which would replace them.
I think there is the potential to have a look at that but you
need to put the horse before the cart and you need those centres
of excellence to then make the decision as to where best to spend
Q536 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
I think this is a question for you. How would you see the BBC
develop its proposal for a shared production hub in Manchester,
which obviously would involve Granada?
Ms Woodward: I am really glad you asked me that
question. We have spent some time talking about it within the
industry sector already. We already have a production hub in Manchester
and that is the ITV Granada site with 1,200 people, all the post
production facilities, the studio facilities which are shared
currently in a joint venture company called 3sixtymedia which
is owned by both the BBC and ITV Granada. We would not be doing
something brand new, we would be building on the basis of something
we have already. On the Granada site we already have Red Productions
who rent some offices on our site and share in our production
studios, post production, canteen, medical centre, car park, security,
and our stationery closet if you let Andrew too near, so there
is already a very good template there for us to work on. The big
question is where should that hub be and, as you know, the BBC
Governors are looking at four sites, and quite a lot of detailed
work is underway on which of those sites to choose, and the Governors
are whittling four down to two and ultimately to one. How would
I like the BBC to proceed with that? With due haste would be really
useful. It is quite a long time to wait until 2010 and it would
be really helpful for all the parties interested in the BBC coming
here and being successful in helping drive the success of our
industries to understand what is the cost and what is the breakdown
of cost in order for them to help them look at some of these costs
and see whether there are synergies and where we can share and
therefore reduce costs. I understand it will be a very difficult
decision for the BBC to commit what happens to be an enormous
spend out of the spending pot. I understand how hard that decision
will be and I am very happy and more than willing to help look
at those figures and see what best practice we can share to reduce
Q537 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
Is it your belief that this hub is only really viable if the BBC
makes the move that it is suggesting? If it were not to happen,
would the hub still be a possibility?
Ms Woodward: Because we have a hub already,
that already exists, and that hub is not going to disappear overnight.
Q538 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
But could it involve the BBC without the departments moving?
Ms Woodward: No, you need that critical mass
of creative talent, commissioning spend and the ability to transfer
the talent between genres, departments, divisions and indeed companies
to maximise the potential benefits.
Just on that question of costs, the BBC at the momentand
I think it is obviously up for debateare basically saying
this is going to cost £50 million a year and the savings
will be found after 25 years. Is that the sort of basis that Granada
would be interested in investing in?
Ms Woodward: ITV Granada, as you know, is part
of the ITV plc group and we are diligent in pursuing and squeezing
our assets and making sure that every penny spent is profitable.
We are not ashamed of that. We are very proud of being a successful
commercial company. Whenever we embark on anything not of this
magnitude but any sort of proposal for change and development,
we have to justify internally the business case so every single
penny and every single pound is drilled down, re-examined and
examined again to find out if we can make it a tighter fit. That
is quite a hard question to answer. I do not understand on what
basis the figures have been arrived at. I do not know whether
that is a fair assessment or not fair. It is difficult to know.