Friday 2 November 2018 10:52 am

DEBATE: Channel 4 has chosen to relocate its headquarters to Leeds, but is this a sensible decision?

and James Heywood
James Heywood is head of welfare and opportunity at the Centre for Policy Studies

Channel 4 has chosen to relocate its headquarters to Leeds, but is this a sensible decision?

YES, says Olivia Utley, deputy editor at TheArticle.

It is common knowledge that British regions are suffering from a brain drain to London. The latest analysis suggests that 30 per cent of all students will head to the capital upon graduating, rising to nearly 40 per cent among Russell Group leavers.

As bright young things fight for living space in London – sending rental prices spiralling out of control – big cities in the north and west are left with serious skills shortages and ageing populations unable to fund themselves.

Ministers have been under pressure for years to tackle the stubbornly unbalanced map of Britain’s economy, but face a vicious cycle: to attract young graduates, a city must be “cool”, but for it to be cool, it must be full of young graduates.

In relocating 200 of its staff from London, the bosses of Channel 4 have helped to break that cycle. And by choosing Leeds – already the home of several independent, quality production companies – they can be sure that their migration north will be royally rewarded.

NO, says James Heywood, senior researcher at Centre for Policy Studies.

The decision on where to locate Channel 4’s new headquarters was meant to be based on the area’s pool of digital talent, adequacy of transport links, and desirability as a place to live.

With that in mind, I really struggle to see how Leeds wins out. Manchester has better connectivity and many broadcasters already have a presence there. Across the Irwell, Salford hosts the huge MediaCityUK development.

The benefits of relocation are enhanced if there is an established media sector already there. This is basic economics: if a sector concentrates in one area, there is a “cluster effect”. Agglomeration leads to higher productivity, as a pool of skilled people and related industries develops to serve the sector. A report for the government explicitly stated that the economic benefits would be greater in an area with an established media sector, and that Channel 4 on its own did not have the clout to create a completely new creative cluster.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, I am a Mancunian.

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