One of the BBC’s most senior figures has waded in to the row following the high-profile departure of Tommy Nagra from the broadcaster’s Mailbox HQ after less than a year in charge.
Peter Salmon, who leads BBC England at MediaCity UK in Salford, spoke out after a storm of criticism questioning the corporation’s commitment to Birmingham.
Mr Nagra, who was head of BBC Birmingham, announced his departure back to the North West just a year after coming to the city.
The Midlands pays £900 million into BBC coffers through the licence fee – more than any other UK region – but its investment here is less than anywhere else, according to data collated by the Campaign for Regional Broadcasting Midlands.
Last week campaign chairman Michael Bradley, in a letter to the Post, said: “Tommy’s enthusiasm was self evident but one year is not long enough to repair the damage that has been done by years of cutbacks by the corporation to its operations in the Midlands.”
The corporation also came under fire from MP Gisela Stuart (Lab Edgbaston) after it emerged the BBC Journalism Trainee Scheme would see candidates interviewed in Salford and London, not Birmingham.
The broadcaster announced last May its talent centre, BBC Academy, was moving to the Mailbox, claiming it would mean more young people would start their careers in the city.
Now, writing in industry magazine Broadcast Now, BBC director of England Peter Salmon has pledged the corporation is committed to Birmingham in spite of the recent criticism, and highlighted a three-year £23.5 million investment plan.
He said Joe Godwin, new joint director of the BBC Academy and BBC Birmingham, would oversee the creation of 200 new roles in the city.
Mr Salmon wrote: “Our home at The Mailbox is about to begin a new and exciting phase, boosted by those 200 new roles, making it the BBC’s home for skills, talent and recruitment.
“Our much-respected BBC Academy is relocating along with partner departments including BBC people, internal communications, outreach & social responsibility and workplace.
“We are also setting up a new ‘digital innovation unit’ in Digbeth as part of a regeneration partnership with the city and the local enterprise partnership.
“The unit will reflect the city’s growing digital ambition, its youthful demographic and its pioneering heritage and has the benefit of being based within the city’s creative quarter.
“All that plus The Space, the BBC’s digital arts co-venture with Arts Council England, which is in line to move to Birmingham with its £14 million budget.”
Mr Salmon added: “Whatever the vagaries of future content commissioning and production, Tony Hall has tasked us with building a permanent BBC core for Birmingham, with sustainable investment, jobs and partnerships.
“This will put the city back on the media map and underpin future activity and output with skills and training for the long term.
“Behind this current drive, BBC Birmingham continues to be an important part of the BBC’s production landscape, too – the home to great network and regional programming across TV and Radio.
“Drama is in the DNA of Birmingham and the BBC Drama Village in Selly Oak guarantees this fine tradition.
“It produces more than 120 hours of drama for BBC1 every year, including Doctors and Father Brown, a BBC Worldwide-supported hit all over the world; WPC56, which returns this spring, and our latest commission, The Coroner. The Drama Village is a fantastic gateway for young talent to hone their skills, craft and creativity and is a major factor in the Midlands’ success story that’s got the potential to support big regional, national and global hits such as Peaky Blinders, BBC2’s smash hit that local boy Steven Knight would love to see made here moving forward.”
Mr Salmon claimed the city currently produced 300 hours of drama a year on radio or television
He said: “As head of business development for BBC Birmingham, Nagra got us skillfully to the end of stage one, helping to build confidence and business at The Mailbox. But as we begin our staff moves to the city, his role here comes to an end as planned.
“Godwin has started work on taking things forward.
“His appointment at director level makes it clear this is a big moment for the BBC in Birmingham and he has wider leadership responsibilities for continuing our growth.
“Like my own role, it’s not about wholesale changes to line management to achieve our ends, it’s about leadership, vision and team-work, something Joe excels at.
“Our recent investment and activity is very much a first step in building a strong, sustainable and creative centre in Birmingham, fit and ready for the future in a financially challenging climate for the BBC which is also delivering huge efficiency savings over the next two years.”