Channel 4 may move from Westminster to Birmingham

The idea behind moving operations to Birmingham would be to diversify the country’s media hub away from London

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The Independent Online

A decade after the bulldozers went in to the BBC’s Pebble Mill Studios in Birmingham, the Government is reportedly considering moving the state-owned broadcaster Channel 4 to the Midlands city.

If such a move was agreed, Channel 4 would sell its headquarters in Westminster and follow HSBC, Deutsche Bank and others in moving staff to Birmingham.

Channel 4 employs some 800, most of whom work in a Richard Rogers-designed building in Horseferry Road, Westminster. It does not own its own studios, commissioning its programmes from third-party companies.

The idea behind moving operations to Birmingham would be to diversify the country’s media hub away from London, following from the move of BBC operations to Manchester, which is also seen as a potential new home for Channel 4. It would mark a total turnaround from the exodus of TV jobs from the city since the BBC and ITV reduced their presence their more than a decade ago. The Government could sell the £85m London HQ.

While hundreds of executive and back-office roles would move northwards, there were doubts over what difference such a move might make to the overall geographical shape of Channel 4’s output. More than half of its programmes are already commissioned outside London. It already has offices in Manchester and Glasgow.

The potential move is reportedly being discussed as one of several options for Channel 4, including privatisation.

John McVay, chief executive of Pact, the trade body for TV production firms, doubted the rational of quitting London, where most of the production industry was based. “A move would cost money that you could be spending on making programmes,” he said.

Channel 4 said: “Channel 4 plays a significant role in supporting the creative economy in the UK nations and regions.”

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said there were no plans to privatise or relocate the broadcaster, but The Sunday Telegraph reported that such discussions were taking place at ministerial level in parallel to the renegotiation of the BBC Charter.

Channel 4: what is it for?

Channel 4 was set up under the Thatcher government in 1982 to provide an alternative to the BBC and ITV. The idea was to stimulate the independent production sector, breaking their duopoly. Channel 4 commissions all of its programmes from “indy” producers and is tasked with commissioning alternative, risky output, particularly for those in the 16-34 age bracket. Channel 4 News is made by ITN at its studios in Gray’s Inn Road. All profits are ploughed back into broadcasting. Last year it had revenues of £938m, of which it put more than £600m back into commissioning content.