Dear Editor, How do you make the largest regional city in England and the three million people who live around it disappear?
Charge a licence fee, spend it elsewhere and, abracadabra, the second city has gone. D Fleming asks quite rightly, what the benefit will be for licence fee payers now that the BBC has invested heavily in a massive new broadcasting centre at Media City in Manchester (Birmingham Post Viewpoint, March 22). One thing is for sure, the concentration of so many BBC departments and staff in just one northern city has been to the detriment of Birmingham and will continue to damage our region for many years to come.
The Midlands has lost yet another industry but this time there has been no massive protests in the streets, little public outcry and only a few raised political voices. The silence has been deafening whilst hundreds of broadcasting jobs have migrated north and south and the profile of the city has deteriorated to such an extent that the only time you will now see Birmingham on the television is on the weather map or if there’s a riot.
Both the main political parties seem to be at fault on this one. When Labour came to power in 1997 Birmingham contained two large production centres for ITV and the BBC. By the time they were ousted, both those centres had gone, to be replaced with local news studios. Under the new Conservative-led government, this decline has not been checked at all. In fact, it seems that the BBC in particular is answerable to no one.
The BBC issued a consultation document in October and hidden away in a small paragraph on page 18 was the announcement that 150 jobs were to go in Birmingham and that most network programme production would move to Bristol. Barely was the ink dry on that consultation document when in January the developer and landlord of Media City made a planning application with Salford council to build a five million square feet extension. Let’s put the scale of that extension into some sort of context. Birmingham city centre sees 650,000 square feet of new office lettings each year. So, expect even more jobs to go up there and yet more programming.
Does it matter? That is the question. Does it matter that the BBC will employ some 4,000 people in Manchester and less than 400 in Birmingham? Does it matter that there are now absolutely no programmes being made in Birmingham for peak time viewing and several hours a week being beamed from up there? Does it matter that we pay the same licence fee as the north west, as London, Scotland or Wales but that for some reason, we are not to be seen, not to be heard. Birmingham is the city that dare not speak its name. The BBC does not like us, let’s face it and be brutally honest about it. They raise a public tax, call it a licence fee and invest it elsewhere – because they can.
Several campaigners have tried to raise the issue with local party leaders here in Birmingham and for the most part, we have been ignored. Only Martin Mullaney, Gisela Stuart, John Hemming and Steve McCabe have taken any notice. It’s true that the city council recently signed a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with the BBC: something about digital this and that, support for the independent sector and another nail for our broadcasting coffin. Whilst Manchester gets a massive media centre and 14 studios and Cardiff gets its shiny new drama complex, we settle for a piece of paper, no studios whatsoever, no firm programme making commitments and no objection.
The decline of Birmingham as a centre of broadcasting will do untold and continual damage to this city and its reputation for many years to come and the gap that has widened between it and Manchester has placed Birmingham at a permanent disadvantage.
What is the point of a high speed railway or a longer runway if nobody knows who you are? Without a strong media presence, Birmingham is nowt but a provincial city with only bad news to report.
In all of this, you cannot blame Manchester for its ambition, its self belief and the ability of all those who came together to make Media City a reality. A stark contrast indeed to the incredible lack of vision, lack of confidence or sheer indifference of many who should be leading the Midlands out of recession.
Finally, it is also the BBC that needs to be saved from itself. The re-engineered BBC that we are now left with, concentrated as it is in just two or three English cities, is a dangerous model indeed as it seeks to justify its licence fee tax on a population that increasingly seeks its entertainment elsewhere. In a multi-channel, multi-platform world, the BBC should be investing locally, doing what other providers do not, representing all licence fee payers and giving them a voice to be heard. Otherwise, why pay that tax? It looks increasingly like a £145.50 annual subsidy that we in the Midlands are paying for jobs and investment elsewhere. Ask yourself: why pay it?
Michael Bradley, Solihull.