The BBC and Channel 4 Northern relocations

In the Summer of 2010, the BBC announced that it would be moving its breakfast show to a new development on Salford Quays, which had in itself been recently regenerated to attract fresh investment, businesses, new housing developments and a large leisure complex.

The planned move was estimated to create as many as 10,000 new jobs and boost the regional economy by £1 billion over 5 years. The BBC had said only a year previously that the move would cost the publicly-funded corporation almost £1 billion over a twenty-year period.

It happened: the BBC moves to Manchester

The planned move of certain programmes and services away from London to Salford caused controversy at the time. BBC Executives were reportedly unwilling to move and many said that the costs exceeded the political benefits of such a development. However, at the same time, the national broadcasting company’s continued location in Britain’s capital was the subject of a great deal of criticism.

What were the anticipated benefits of the move?

The hope was that the relocation would better position the BBC to serve northern audiences, to help grow the region’s economy and to improve programming quality.

…And the reality?

It took seven years for the move to complete, but research carried out by the Centre for Cities in 2017 found that the economic benefits weren’t immediately discernible beyond MediaCityUKs surroundings, where BBC North is based.

Additionally, the effects on local employment were found to be negligible. Some of this may be down to broader trends and reporting. MediaCityUK saw a significant rise in media professionals working at the base, but jobs in the industry across Manchester fell overall between 2011-2016.

The prediction of 10,000 newly created jobs was found to be inflated, as the relocation had only created around 4,400 by 2016, which represented just 0.3% of the region’s total employment. It was hoped that other firms would move to the area as a direct result of the BBC’s location, but only 145 new jobs were created in this way.

However, Manchester City Council has challenged figures produced by the Centre for Cities, saying that the move by the BBC had been key to sparking a digital and creative revolution in Manchester and helping to add £3.1 billion to the GM economy.

Salford city mayor, Paul Dennett, also said that the creation of MediaCityUK had generated 7,000 jobs and grown a cluster of 250 digital firms. He added that it had also shown the value of moving global brands and public sector jobs away from London.

Channel 4 moves to Manchester? Sadly not.

The Government placed equally firm pressure on Channel 4 to move some of its operations out of London and touted Birmingham as a possible base. However, Channel 4 said that it has decided to transfer some of its operations to Leeds instead. Only around 300 staff are expected to actually make the move, and around 90% of the staff are expected to take redundancy on generous terms.

These redundancy payments will help to push the cost of the move to over £50 million. Around 60% of the brand’s managers have said that they will not leave London, but Channel 4 is keen to pursue a ‘pan-UK’ locational strategy that better represents its broad customer base and which allows it to better serve audiences with varied programming.

It is expected that the Leeds site will initially house around 200 staff and attract a number of talented programming, media and digital professionals, as MediaCityUK has done in Greater Manchester and Salford.

Government policy

The Government wants to see the movement of large public bodies and brands across the UK to help balance the country’s economy. GVA growth has been strongest in the NW of England since 2015 – called the Northern Powerhouse as a result. However, London still represents 25% of the UK’s total Gross Value Add.

Which BBC departments are now based at Salford?

Salford’s MediaCityUK is now the base for BBC sports programming, breakfast production, children’s TV, Radio Five Live and a large team of digital services. Today there are over 3,000 people working at the BBC in Salford.

MediaCityUK today

Today at the Salford base, there are around 3,200 employees working for the BBC across 26 departments. Together they produce thousands of content hours for TV, online and for radio.

The digital team is a particularly large and growing function, producing rich media and digital content for a range of BBC audiences. The large site also has restaurants, bars, shops, a substantial Salford University campus and the Lowry theatre and art gallery, and is continuing to grow.