Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580
TUESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2005
Mr Pat Loughrey, Mr Mark Thomas and Mr Martin Brooks
Q580 Bishop of Manchester:
Can we look at the situation here with the BBC in Manchester as
it is now and then how it might be when the moves are made. I
know that when you showed us the little film extract before you
did some of this but if we could have for the sake of the public
record now information about what is broadcast from here, including
on radio and television networks as well as regional. Please also
go on to say what is going to be changed when the rest come.
Mr Brooks: I will give you a thumbnail sketch
of what is here at the moment. About 800 staff work in this building.
There are three main network production bases here: BBC Manchester
Entertainment, which I mentioned this morning with programmes
like Mastermind, Question of Sport; the BBC's Religion
and Ethics Department is based here with Songs of Praise,
Moral Maze, Thought for the Day; and network current
affairs which produce Real Story, File on Four and
the like. Then there are several network radio teams based here
as well. There is a factual radio unit which does weekly editions
of You and Yours, Women's Hour, Front Row
from here. Then there is the BBC Radio Three unit and a BBC entertainment
unit which does a lot of Radio Four quiz programming from here.
Then there is Radio drama which produces about 60 hours of drama
a year. Then on top of that, as we are in their studio, I should
mention there is the BBC Philharmonic. The total hours for the
network production from this centre are 243 hours of network television
a year, 1,107 hours of network radio and, of course, we have got
the regional output from here, North West Tonight and the BBC
GMR which serves the Greater Manchester area, and the hours for
them are 342 hours of regional television. That is made up of
news, current affairs, political output and sports output. Then
6,752 hours of local radio through BBC GMR. We have mentioned
earlier on the departments that are coming and they will transform
this place. They are heavy hitting departments for the BBC: sport
with all its sports output; children's with its two channels CBBC
and CBeebies; all the new media departments, including research
and development, due to be coming up here; children's learning;
and Five Live. There will be a massive amount of production and
we reckon it is £225 million worth of production that will
be coming here to Manchester.
Q581 Bishop of Manchester:
Thank you very much for that very full answer. Can I ask you now
about the previous occasion when a department came here and that
is the Religion and Ethics Department. Nothing to do with my particular
role as a Bishop it is simply wanting to know from the professional
BBC point of view if I have my facts correct. My understanding
is that the move of that department here to Manchester was perhaps
thought out in a way which was not quite as fully thought out
as it might have been and that that department was in a sense
disadvantaged by, if you like, being away from the corridors of
power and commissioning and all those sorts of things. I use that
simply as an example. Without going into that particular aspect,
can you give an assurance on the ways in which these other departments
are coming that those kinds of difficulties will not be faced
by them? If your answer to that is no that will not happen, you
could then perhaps go back to this other department and say will
things therefore improve for them.
Mr Brooks: Religion moved up here
at the same time as entertainment features. I do not think there
was a natural synergy between those two departments necessarily.
They moved at the same time but they do not make natural bed fellows,
I would contend.
Bishop of Manchester: We could have a
debate on that!
Please do not, not on this Committee.
Mr Brooks: I think we have learnt lessons from
the move of religion. I think it is significant that there is
commissioning power within those departments that are moving up
now and they have their own dedicated output. I think that is
a significant change from when religion moved up to Manchester.
I was not here at the time but I have talked to people that were
involved in that move. They have talked about some of the difficulties
that there were and we will take those into account in anything
we do moving forward with the departments as they are going to
Mr Loughrey: As we did some research for this
work maybe 18 months ago we talked to a former Head of Religious
Programmes who said the problem with that set of incredibly well-intentioned
moves was that we tended to shift supplicants and leave the power
base exactly as it has been. The supplicants have thrived in religion
and ethics in many ways. There is a very solid production base
and I do not want to be seen to cast aspersions but it heightened
the degree of difficulty for a production department. These new
proposals are largely about self-commissioning teamschildren's
education, Five Live, sport, children's programmeswhich
all carry their budgets and their production teams. It is that
sense of rounded security and relative strength in the market
that gives them a base. I am convinced that that will provide
advantages for religion and ethics and for entertainment and for
current affairs here. There is a strength and solidarity in the
Manchester base that comes from that scale of investment and the
opportunities and the technology that we envisage will benefit
all departments, including those here already.
Q583 Bishop of Manchester:
The people in sports and other departments in London are now utterly
reassured that if they were to come to Manchester then all the
kinds of things you have just been describing will be firmly in
Mr Loughrey: I think the one thing that Mark
Thompson has repeatedly said is there is a vision and there are
not some teams or production areas that will slip off the back
of the truck on the way north. We thought this through and we
believe these are entirely complementary teams and they are groups
that will reengineer the architecture of the business. He is completely
committed, as is the Chairman Michael Grade, to the totality of
the vision. In terms of reassurance in terms of individuals, one
has to say that ideally the BBC should not have to engineer such
an extreme correction at one time but such is the change in the
commercial broadcasting market across the UK there is a sense
of urgency, such is the strength of our own audience data to indicate
that such correction is necessary. We would have preferred to
have had a smaller disruption to the private and professional
lives of colleagues, but this is quite different. However, I have
to say five years is a long time in a very fluid industry.
Q584 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
Can I just go back to this point about commissioning power. Are
we talking about Mr Mosey for instance moving up here?
Mr Loughrey: Yes.
Q585 Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury:
So it is the whole department from top to bottom?
Mr Loughrey: Yes.
Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Thank
you very much.
Q586 Lord Maxton:
Although the move here of national departments is obviously the
prime concern at the moment, to some extent what we are looking
at is regional broadcasting and the role of the BBC within that,
therefore I am interested in the hours. Do you do more hours than
Granada of regional broadcasting?
Mr Brooks: I would have thought we did now because
we do sports programmes in addition to our daily news service
which is about a mirror of their daily news service. We also do
current affairs and political output. They do political output
and some current affairs. We do a fair amount of sports output
mainly centred around Rugby Leagueafter all, this is the
heartland of Rugby League. We do two programmes concerning Rugby
League. We do the Super League Show which goes out on a
Sunday lunchtime and then we do Rugby League Raw, which
is the programme to which Sue alluded. It is not an ITV programme;
we actually produce it. We put it out, it is our programme.
Q587 Lord Maxton:
We received a complaint from Scottish Rugby Union, about Rangers
and Celtic. They thought BBC Scotland was entirely about that
and nothing else. What will be the impact on that broadcasting
of moving these national departments up here? Is it likely to
distract you from that role or are you going to keep them separated
so that this building will remain as the regional broadcaster?
Mr Loughrey: I believe no, the vision is that
this site will no longer be occupied and that the entire BBC operation
will be alongside other parts of the whole media community in
that media village. I think that career paths will be broader
and higher than ever before outside London and hence the professional
opportunities for people in regional and local programmes will
be significantly enhanced. Local radio and regional television
news have been traditional recruitment territory for the whole
of broadcasting from its inception. This formalises that opportunity
and makes it possible without always moving within the M25.
Q588 Lord Maxton:
Can I move it down one then. What about local television rather
than just regional television? Be honest, a major car accident
in Manchester is not of much interest to someone in Carlisle,
so are you looking at that to see how you can bring news and current
Mr Loughrey: Let me just return to your earlier
question. I believe that the BBC still produces marginally less
overall output in English regions than ITV but, as you are well
aware, ITV are rapidly diminishing their level of non-news output
in the regions from three hours to one and a half, with a plan
to reduce that further if Ofcom permits. We decided that rather
than fill that vacuum directly we should do exactly as you describe
and provide television news that is as local as our local radio
provision in England and a great deal more local than we have
ever been able to provide in the three nations. All of the audience
indicators tell us that that is very much sought after by our
large audiences. In a sense it is providing broadband on demand
television news. In our Where I Live sites across the United Kingdom
we have experienced remarkable growth in the five years of our
existence. They are still a text-based service. When Philip Graf
conducted the DCMS review he was somewhat critical of the character
of local sites for having such a text-based service when we are
in the business of sound and pictures and not text. We have taken
that challenge and propose to create 60 strong local television
on-line on-demand news services across the UK as a parallel initiative
with us. We believe that in that welter of choice in multi-channel
television the one choice that is sadly lacking is news about
your community, and we can deliver it. There is a pilot happening
in the West Midlands about to begin to test that proposition.
Q589 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
As you know, in our first report we recommended sharing centres
of regional excellence. You obviously have had discussions with
local production companies about sharing resources. Could you
fill us in about how these have gone and whether, in your view,
a major move like the one that might happen up here will contribute
to the initiatives throughout the country?
Mr Thomas: In terms of a shared set of resources
we absolutely endorse that view. Essentially that is what the
media zone is predicated on. I think it goes a stage further than
was originally intended when people began talking about it and
I think this is why a level of granularity is quite important.
It is possible to see a synergy, for example, between ourselves
being in Manchester and ITV Granada. When you actually explore
what that is in reality, the area of sharing is probably pretty
much around a studio business. So we use television studios, they
use television studios. If you look at the breadth of our proposition
in terms of bringing radio up, they do not do radio; in terms
of our learning division, they do not do that; the R&D aspect
that the BBC does; our on-line stuff. So, yes, we are for sharing
but it has got to involve the right partners, which is why I was
delighted when the RDA and the councils were beginning to talk
about Microsoft. It is companies like that we have been talking
to them about. We have been saying that if the BBC brings up this
range of propositions it would allow the media zone to create
multiple interfaces with multiple businesses. There are lots of
opportunities for interfaces with this proposition. Potentially
you are talking about BBC Sport, on television, on radio and on-line.
Given the proactive way the NWDA and councils are behaving, it
is perfectly possible to imagine they would set about trying to
attract sporting organisations as well on the back of this move.
So I think yes to shared resources, but we are talking about multiple
interfaces and that is why I urged that note of caution earlier
on. We should not just be looking at a partnership that is rooted
in the delivery of current content by current media players. We
are talking about a move that is five years away. We are talking
about a move that is for the long-term future of the BBC. We call
the services moving here the "services of the future"
and we are looking at that media zone proposition as something
that is going to be viable in 20 or 30 years' time. You yourselves
know how dramatically the broadcasting business is going to change.
As the Chairman himself mentioned today, with the changes under
the Communications Act the stability of those partners in that
relationship is also crucial. So we are looking for a broad range
of partners rather than a narrow arranged marriage.
Q590 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
I think what I was trying to get at, perhaps rather badly, is
if what is being proposed up here, or wherever it happens, with
all these multi benefits works (albeit five years on goodness
only knows what has happened in that time) would this not make
it easier for the more limited regional get-togethers to operate?
Mr Thomas: In a word, Lady Howe, yes, it is
Q591 Baroness Howe of Idlicote:
I would have thought so.
Mr Loughrey: There are interesting signs in
Scotland at our new Pacific Quay site of collaborative ventures.
It does not make much sense for two broadcasting organisations
to own two separate studios both of which are dark for 75 per
cent of their time. It does not make much sense in public value
terms to have separate restaurants and separate security. There
might well be opportunities in various centres around the country
to have a more collaborative approach. Quite frankly, that is
how the talent has moved over the decades across providers. I
do not think the audience see it as necessarily opposite and in
the regional centres we have a great deal in common with local
radio, commercial radio and ITV. There is a fraternity of commitment
to those communities and that should be reflected in the most
cost-effective possible use of resources.
But if there is a chance or a prospect, just going back on what
Mark Thomas was saying, of ITV being taken over, it must act as
a bit of a disincentive for your partnership ambitions?
Mr Thomas: Being completely clear about this,
when we went back to the Governors we presented them with three
scenarios. We said we can do what the BBC always does which is
to stand alone, we can do a joint venture with ITV, or we can
do the media zone. The Governors were very clear that the joint
venture with ITV, while producing some benefits, did not produce
the benefits on anything like the scale we are talking about,
and the media zone is the model they have asked us to pursue,
with a fall-back option of a stand alone option if that does not
work. So you are absolutely right, but what we are saying to all
the media zone operators for us in the context in which you set
it out, ITV being a tenant on the media zone is neither a deal
maker nor a deal breaker for us. The issue is really for the operator
of the media zonethe councils, the NWDAto attract
whoever they feel they need to attract to that location. It is
slightly complicated by the fact that ITV is one of the potential
sites so not surprisingly their current position is they would
only want to be part of the media zone on their own site. As I
indicated, this is a complex set of negotiations and I am sure
we will end up in a sensible place.
Mr Loughrey: Of course we will warmly welcome
ITV. We are very keen to collaborate with ITV where it makes sense.
I am sure you are but that was not entirely my point. My point
was if there is a question mark over future ownership, you have
to take that into account.
Mr Loughrey: The issue of the stability of partners
is a critical thing in assessing any collaborative venture and
the media zone has the opportunity within it for more dexterity.
Chairman: I can see that and understand
Q594 Lord Peston:
Pursuing again the reasons for the move, I ought to apologise
to you, I had taken it for granted that the reason for the move
was to save costs and that all the other benefits were by-products.
Your argument is no it is the other benefits that matter and if
there are any costs savings they will be the by product. Am I
correct in my interpretation?
Mr Loughrey: The proposition we brought to the
Governors was based on the benefit to licence payers.
Q595 Lord Peston:
Let us look at the benefits. There are two aspects that I would
like to hear a bit more on. One is the general point that arose
this morning that there will be better services broadly as a result
of this. To take sport as an example, sports broadcasting will
simply be better sports broadcasting. That is one bit of your
argument, I assume. The other is this point, which I must admit
I do not understand but you again seem to accept it, that somehow
broadcasting is dominated by metropolitan values, by which I presume
they mean South East values, and somehow it will now become much
more Lancastrian. Is that my correct interpretation? If there
is such a thing as Lancastrian values they are going to be the
ones that now get a fair play? Again, it is really for enlightenment
I ask the question, and I put it in my usual aggressive way: really
what are the benefits?
Mr Loughrey: I will start with the last bit
first and then Mark will discuss sport. I think it cannot be right
that 99 per cent of the BBC's commissioning happens in one place
in the United Kingdom. In any sense of equity the people who make
the critical decisions about what we hear on air and what we see
on television all walk the same streets, not just in London but
in two boroughs in London really. It is a very lopsided proposition.
That was tenable perhaps when the rest of the broadcasting ecology
was different when the key decisions in commercial television
were made right across the country. That is no longer the case.
The key decisions made in commercial broadcasting are now also
made in those same two or three boroughs. They are going to the
same restaurants, going to the same theatres, walking the same
streets, reading the same books. It is a very, very narrow social
and intellectual environment. It is very difficult to sustain
that in a world where we collect a licence fee on every street.
It is very difficult to review briefly the extraordinarily creative
voice, despite that lopsidedness, of this part of the UK. It is
not about a Lancastrian equivalent to Chiswick. It is about Manchester
being a creative hub for the whole of the North of England, just
as Cardiff is charged with being the creative hub for the whole
of Wales. If this project works in Manchester alone then it will
have failed. We have to achieve a degree of creative interpretation
and creative engagement with audiences across the whole of the
North of England which has evaded us in the past. The evidence
of talent, of writing and performing skills that is evident here
gives us every good cause to be hopeful that we can achieve that.
Q596 Lord Peston:
Could we just pursue that because I am still completely lost.
I speak entirely as a viewer and listener. I am not very clear
what I get that is different if it is made here. Everything you
say about the creative talent here and all those other things,
great universities, all that is here. However, I do not see what
ends up other than the possibility which arose this morning that
I might hear some Lancashire accents on telly rather than my own
accent, which I am in favour of let me add, but it is not the
biggest deal I could imagine. Will I get better plays and will
I get better documentaries if they are commissioned up here?
Mr Thomas: I think at the end of the day the
specific point here is that programmes are made by people.
Q597 Lord Peston:
Mr Thomas: And the more diverse that group of
people the better the BBC's offering. That has been our experience.
Having production, as Pat says, in Scotland and Wales and across
the country and at the centres in Bristol and Birmingham and indeed
Manchester currently, it is a richer mix than if everybody were
located in the same place with the same sets of views, because
at the end of the day programmes start with ideas and ideas are
sparked by a whole different range of life experiences. So I think
something of this considerable size that we are talking about
would allow people to spend one or two stages of their career
in another centre other than London working for the BBC. We had
a tape this morning of talent who were basically saying how they
had to leave the area in order to go and make programmes in London
and how it was offensive, frankly, that they had to do that. In
a way, you have also heard from Granada how a lot of those ideas
were routed through them and denied to the BBC as a result of
that. I think the BBC underperforms in the North of England not
simply because there are not enough Lancastrian voices but because
the thing that makes this part of the world the way it is not
necessarily there in sufficient critical mass within the BBC to
find its way through the system.
Mr Loughrey: Shall I try a small example which
you may or may not find persuasive. In popular drama there are
three dominant popular dramasEastenders, Casualty
and Holby Cityall concentrated in the south of this
country. When we decided some years ago to have another popular
drama it went so far south it came off this island and ended up
in Spain, called Eldorado. There is a gravitational feel in the
BBC and indeed increasingly now in the whole broadcasting industry
that sucks everything rapidly south and that denies to this part
of the world the creative opportunity that the licence fee gives
as their right, and all that I have done throughout my career,
and what all of us in broadcasting do, is creative acts of faith,
taking opportunities and investing where we believe the opportunities
exist. For years drama from BBC Wales was regarded as a joke.
Drama from Wales in general was regarded as the bottom of the
creative pile. We made a few creative decisions on risks with
BBC Wales drama and out of it we have Dr Who and Casanova.
We believe that talent is, without doubt, here to deliver at the
highest end, not obsessed by provincialism and parochialism but
at the highest level in the broadcasting world, and it is for
that reason the diversity Mark described is essential to a healthy
creative life. We believe this centre will permit us that opportunity.
Q598 Lord Maxton:
Yes, I understand that. If that is what you are about, that is
fine. The problem is what you initially described, Pat, was essentially
saying the idea of moving the programmes here was so the programmes
would be attractive to people in the North, but if you are bringing
national programme makers here, they have not just got to appeal
to people in the North, they have got to appeal right across the
whole of the country.
Mr Loughrey: That is my Dr Who argument.
Q599 Lord Maxton:
But Dr Who could be made anywhere. It is not a Welsh drama
programme, it is not about Wales.
Mr Loughrey: It was written by a very proud
Welshman and produced by some very proud Welshmen.