History repeats itself: Forcing Channel 4 out of London won't end well

Elliott Haworth
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In Brexit discourse, we scoff at the idea of bankers wanting to move to Frankfurt, with its gloomy concrete, or Paris, with its Parisians. So why the complacency with Channel 4 moving to somewhere like Birmingham?

The claim is that because more than two thirds of producers are based in London and the south east, relocating Channel 4 will spread the creative sector’s economic benefits around the country, increasing regional representation in the process.

As was argued in this paper last week, Channel 4’s location makes no difference to where its budget is spent. The broadcaster creates nothing in-house, and is legally obliged to spread investment across the UK.

Fluffy policies in aid of redistributing wealth to the regions make good soundbites. But the government has misrepresented the benefits laid out in the independent analysis it commissioned.

Read more: Should a substantial part of Channel 4’s operations be moved out of London?

The perceived job creation and regional economic benefits can be negated in one sentence in the report:

“These estimates are sensitive to C4C’s financial performance and number of employees – were these to decline, so would the economic benefits of relocation.”

Consider two previous efforts to relocate public organisations: The Office for National Statistics (ONS), to Newport, and the BBC, to Salford.

The former struggled to fill positions due to a shallow labour pool. When it eventually did, the “Bean Review” suggested that the move impacted the quality of work produced by the ONS.

When the Beeb moved to Salford, it had to offer extensive remuneration to drag people north, and even then it struggled to fill places. It had either a “negligible” impact on the region or was a “colossal waste of money”, depending on which impact report one read.

It has been suggested, by Channel 4’s previous chief executive, that 60 to 80 per cent of the workforce would quit if forced to retrench. In essence, the business would have to start again. Talk about a productivity puzzle.

This government, like the last, fetishises the regions as if some promised land, waiting to be repatriated with homesick citizens who had involuntarily migrated to the capital. It’s simply not true.

Call me metropolitan, call me elitist, but London is an unmatchable hub of international talent – the very best come here for the culture, the opportunity, to be at the centre of the world.

Read more: London is Europe's best-performing city, according to this US think tank

If one discounts the short-termism that plagues the Brexit debate, it is almost inevitable that, to survive, the UK will eventually be to Europe what Hong Kong is to China – a city state with London its thumping heart.

The government should be re-doubling its efforts to fortify London’s position, not dissipating its influence to the nether-regions.

Forcing to move by diktat a company so susceptible to the adverse conditions of the media market is bad business.

One would be naive to not interpret the move as little but a bizarre justification for the ludicrous HS2 project.

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