The man behind the BBC’s £1 billion MediaCity move to Salford is to map out the future of the broadcaster in Birmingham after years of cuts in the city.
In a move signalling the importance being placed on expansion in the region, BBC director general Tony Hall has asked board member Peter Salmon – the man who led the creation of the new Salford studios – to look into possibilities for future output and investment in Birmingham.
Despite a pledge to spread its spending, BBC investment in the Midlands fell last year. Corporation bases in the region received £100 million out of a total spend of more than £4 billion, despite Midlands’ licence fee payers contributing more than £900 million a year.
MPs and campaign groups have been lobbying for several years for the broadcaster to spend more in Birmingham and the region, after jobs were lost when it transferred national factual programme-making to Bristol.
Mr Salmon said: “We are working with key stakeholders in the city to make sure their emerging plans and ours are compatible and sustainable.
“We have to deliver an exciting story for Birmingham against a backdrop of fast-changing technologies and audience appetites and make sure it is affordable, given budgets are tighter than ever.
“There are no quick fixes but it is a challenge my team relishes.”
The Post reported earlier this year that the Midlands was missing out on about £400 million worth of investment every year as the BBC focused spending on other regions. The corporation produced a report called The Economic Value of the BBC in January which showed that it returned £391 million in the north, £699 million in the south and £5.65 billion in London but just £199 million to the Midlands, on the basis of returning £2 of economic value to the region for every pound it spent.
The BBC continues to make content in Birmingham, with The Archers and Doctors the best-known programmes produced here. However, a large number of BBC jobs have been lost and Gisela Stuart, Labour MP for Edgbaston, said that a large part of the corporation’s offices at the Mailbox were empty.
Ms Stuart has met Mr Hall and James Purnell, the BBC’s director of strategy and digital, to campaign for more investment in the city, and said she was convinced it was a priority for the broadcaster.
She said: “We are at a point where there has been recognition that in the West Midlands, and Birmingham in particular, we have got production facilities going unused and offices where an entire floor is empty. I am sure they are looking at the licence fee, and the amount that is paid in this area, and also the ethnic diversity of this place. We are the youngest, fastest-growing city in Europe, so if they cannot tap into that then they are missing a chance to tap into the younger generation.
“You get a real sense that they know they have got to do that.”
A delegation from Birmingham recently met Mr Hall and proposed the city become its new digital hub. They also called for a rise in the number of productions based at the BBC’s Drama Village at the University of Birmingham’s campus and more live radio events.
The BBC still produces Midlands Today and the scaled-back Asian Network at its Mailbox base, and recently commissioned an epic four-year Great War Drama series to be produced here, but it has fallen behind the likes of bases in Bristol and Cardiff. Production of programmes such as Gardeners’ World, Coast and Hairy Bikers have also been lost in recent years. Meanwhile, huge investment is going into the North West as more than 2,000 BBC jobs were transferred to MediaCity from London.
Mr Salmon, who studied at the University of Warwick, was key to this move as the director of BBC North.
He oversaw the move of BBC Sport, Radio 5Live and the BBC’s two children’s channels to Salford as part of a commitment to ensure half of network television programming budget is spent outside London by 2016.
His challenge for BBC Midlands – which includes the West and East Midlands, as well as the East of England – comes after it suffered the biggest fall in expenditure of all BBC regions in the two years to 2012, at 21.7 per cent.
This prompted the creation of lobby group the Campaign for Regional Broadcasting Midlands, which highlighted the fact that the region was the only one not to have a network television studio contributing towards national output.
The BBC appointment of Mr Salmon comes as production facilities elsewhere in the city have seen major investment.
In September, Birmingham City University is to open one of the largest broadcasting centres in the Midlands – including special effects facilities, the UK’s largest permanent green screen and six radio studios – after investing £61 million.
Executive dean Professor Chris O’Neil said: “We need to supply the BBC, but we also need to think beyond the traditional media.”
Ms Stuart said it was a facility the BBC should take an interest in. She said: “We discussed these facilities when we talked about what Birmingham has to offer. The BBC needs to reach out to places like this because one of the criticisms of the BBC is that it is a closed shop.”