FOUR US OR AGAINST US ?
Colin McKeown, the excellent straight speaking boss of LA Productions (Broken, Moving On, Common) summed it up well. “It is their loss not ours”. He was referring to Channel 4’s decision not to shortlist Liverpool for its new National headquarters.
It is a slap in the face for a city that would have been a perfect fit for Channel 4. Liverpool has creativity and attitude oozing from every brick. I’ve always found people in Liverpool far more media savvy than in other places. In terms of creativity, where do you start? The Tate? The Everyman? The rich popular music heritage from the Beatles to The Farm. Not forgetting that it has been the go-to location for hundreds of films and TV shows.
Colin McKeown struck the right note. Mayor Joe Anderson called the decision “hypocritical” pointing out that the move was meant to add jobs, opportunities and growth to places where the BBC and ITV aren’t already installed. Liverpool’s leaders must always guard against the “whingeing Scousers” label that its critics are all too ready to pin on them, but Joe has a point.
Which brings me to the shortlist, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Manchester may well not be chosen because of the proximity of Salford’s Media City. It is now home to a major chunk of BBC and ITV production along with a growing cluster of media related industries. A decision by Channel 4 to move to this part of the North West would hardly be compatible with spreading media growth across the country.
Leeds should get it but probably won’t. Media production east of the Pennines is thin and Channel 4 could build on the heritage of Yorkshire Television, now a distant memory.
Birmingham is now favourite. It has been a dark time for media in the West Midlands since the closure of the BBC’s Pebble Mill studios. There is also a political factor to consider, although Channel 4 bosses would deny such influences. The Midlands Engine has become the focus of government largesse under Theresa May, especially since the election of Conservative Andy Street as mayor of the city region. Birmingham has been awarded the Commonwealth Games (another disappointment for Liverpool) and we could well see Channel 4’s national headquarters there.
The North isn’t in the running at all to be Channel 4’s Creative Hub. Newcastle and Sheffield have not made it on to the shortlist. It is a disappointment for Newcastle, another city of great creativity and identity. It is currently hosting the Great Exhibition of the North which is a fine expression of the culture of the North East. Apparently not good enough for Channel 4 bosses who have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to make this move out of London. Although it is welcome, less than half their staff will leave London and the channel will retain its base in Horseferry Road.
With media devolution you always must ask the question where the people are located that make the big decisions and sign the cheques. For the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, if the answer isn’t right here in the North then there is always the danger of London clawing it all back.
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