Councillor John Blundell is less concerned about pride and more concerned about the future of the British media industry.
The decision to relocate some of Channel 4's operations from London to Leeds is ill-thought through and will prove detrimental to the UK media industry. Like the initiation of the move, the decision was one born from politicking rather than consideration of the economic gains and the future of the UK media industry.
There is nothing wrong with Leeds, it’s a perfectly nice city which will be perfectly capable of welcoming such a venture, but it's not ironic to moan about the 'north-shoring' of Channel 4 to Yorkshire, when the BBC and later ITV have already made the move to MediaCityUK (pictured above).
The sum of the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 in one place would have been greater than the sum of their parts scattered across the regions
Despite the fact Manchester has been the government’s pet devo-poodle since the launch of Mr Osbourne’s Northern Powerhouse agenda, and is to receive tens of millions of pounds for the Factory, we have every right to be incensed by this decision which will diminish the industries ability to compete on the world stage.
A key to the success of the move of the BBC to Salford Quays was that they could draw upon the existing skill sets found here in Greater Manchester, from the legacy of Granada Studios and the fact the city has produced television for several decades, including the world’s longest running soap, Coronation Street.
Along with the human capital, the scale of development in Salford Quays, plus the new Metrolink infrastructure made the waterfront site the perfect place for a grand project. North-shoring the Beeb helped ensure that our national institutions are truly national and not just possessed by the capital.
And what a roaring success MediaCityUK has been for Ordsall; supporting one of Europe’s largest tech clusters, transforming the Salford docks from a desolate wasteland into a thriving centre of the technological and creative industries.
Yet there is no guarantee that replicating such a move will be as successful elsewhere.
According to the 2016 Business Register of Employment Survey, Salford (245k residents) contained 8% of England’s workforce in the Programming and Broadcasting industry, while West Yorkshire (2.3m residents) contained as little as 2%.
A northern cluster is already alive and well.
Industries like to cluster and form agglomerations of activity that are beneficial for the wider business community as well as themselves, even when they are in competition. This is because today’s industries require deep wells of skilled labour and interaction with other firms to obtain knowledge spillovers and to benefit from localised supply chains to be able to compete in ever increasing globalised market.
Given that we know the distribution of industry types is not uniform across the country, we should understand why this occurs. Business and employees are more productive when competing in an agglomeration of scale and more output means higher wages, more spending and more tax. Hence, we are all better off. The sum of the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 in one place would have been greater than the sum of their parts scattered across the regions.
The benefits of enacting this strain of economic thought is what will underpin the justification for Northern Powerhouse Rail, connecting the North’s urban centres via high frequency and speed routes to create a virtual city, and these benefits can be easily illustrated.
For instance, we can now get a train to Liverpool from Manchester in 35 mins, making the surroundings of Lime Street commutable for Manchester city centre dwellers. Manchester too has become an option for Liverpool’s workforce. People will move to more productive jobs and seek higher rents for their labour.
Once you have picked a winner, you need to back it. Don’t spread your clout so thin...
Had Channel 4 moved to Liverpool, because of the improved rail links, it would be hard to argue that there was a significant barrier for those workers in central Manchester and MediaCityUK. But Leeds, at 50 minutes, is just outside of that commutable threshold and the loss of potentially improved labour supply will be great.
In either case the benefit from the interaction between the employees of these industries is certainly lost if it takes longer to arrive at a conference, networking event or a pint with old colleagues. The knowledge spillovers and collaboration spurred on by these relationships can foster a great deal of productive work which benefits the whole industry and all its businesses.
London has been the main beneficiary of agglomeration for a long time and its scale and size has made it possibly the world’s greatest metropolis. As a Northerner I believe that everything of value cannot be the sole preserve of the South and the Home Counties, but once you have picked a winner, you need to back it. Don’t spread your clout so thin that the benefits of being able to build more cheaply and at scale in the north are not properly felt.
I do not resent that Channel 4 is not coming to Salford, but I do resent that the media industry will be weaker for being dispersed across the North of England rather than based among each other, surrounded by robust supply chains and wide pools of labour.
The need for this industry to survive and thrive is greater than the need for the government to be seen as remembering that the North exists, and exists as more than Manchester alone. Britain’s programmes, music and media are broadcast around the world, helping cement the dominance of the English language and to promote our liberal values. To boot, this industry has been growing at twice the speed of the UK economy, while contributing £92bn in output.
Leeds and West Yorkshire has a strong tradition of banking, hence it retains a considerable workforce in this industry and, as a Mancunian, I envy them for that. But I wouldn’t expect any London offices of the Halifax to be moved to, say, Bradford in Manchester.
John Blundell is a Labour councillor for Smallbridge and Firgrove and the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Business, Skills & Employment on Rochdale Council. He is a graduate of Economics from the University of Manchester and was elected to Rochdale Council at just 20 years old.