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October 15, 2006

BBC's move to Salford is nonsense

The Beeb is planning a £400m move to Salford, Manchester, moving departments like Sport and Childrens’ TV out of London. But they’re only doing it to try and convince the government they need more money, and this week they threatened to pull out of the move if they’re not given an above-inflation rise in the licence fee. The broadcasting minister, Shaun Woodward, said pulling out would “damage [the BBC’s] standing with the public”.

But this is nonsense. They couldn’t really care less whether programmes are commissioned from London or the North Pole. They wouldn’t notice the difference. Improvements have been made in recent years because more dramas especially have been filmed and produced in the North and the regions. Many were commissioned from London. But did anyone complain? No.

There are good reasons to move departments out of London. Office space in the capital (and of course, wages) are unnecessarily high. Excepting news and current affairs, there’s no good reason to be situated in the capital. And regeneration of Salford is a fantastic idea, with the plans for the site looking incredible.

Salford Quays plans

But let’s not get carried away like Shaun Woodward. The move won’t greatly benefit the public and won’t really be noticed on screen. There will be small economic pay-offs for the local area and jobs will be created. But it’s not exactly equivalent to finding a huge oil reserve under the Manchester Ship Canal.

The reality is that it’s a political move, designed to promote the BBC as earnestly public-service-minded in time for the renewal of its Royal Charter. So far it’s worked, but realistically the move to Salford has always been exaggerated, a bargaining chip in the BBC’s political game. If Mr Woodward didn’t realise this, he’s being quite naive.

And what should the BBC do? Well, if they wanted to save money then they shouldn’t move from one to metropolis to another. They should just pitch up in a field or disused airfield and start from scratch.


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