1. Economy
November 5, 2018

No, moving Channel 4 to Leeds will not be transformational for the North

By Matt Dawson

While acknowledging the risk of offering the most Yorkshire reaction to good news possible – that is, by having a moan – there has been something slightly grating about the triumphalism that’s greeted Channel 4’s decision to base its new ‘National HQ’ in Leeds.

The leader of the council says it is hard to overestimate the boost this gives to Leeds. Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry tweeted to announce the North was “the creative heart” of the UK. And a local MP said it puts the region “at the heart of the media and digital revolution”. The TUC went as far as saying it would help Leeds avoid the worst of a no deal Brexit.

From the sounds of it you’d be forgiven for thinking this was delivering thousands of shiny new jobs, maybe even a whole media organisation (as was originally promised in the Tory manifesto). But no: to a city with a population of over 750,000, it will bring just 300 jobs. Less than half the workforce of the broadcaster.

Before I go any further let me be clear that this is obviously a Good Thing. We spend a lot of time in Yorkshire complaining about being ignored by the government so this is clearly a step in the right direction.

My problem is that the reaction to the move seems to have highlighted a particular lack of ambition of how we should tackle regional imbalances in this country.

We should start from the acknowledgement that things are historically terrible at the moment. I was only recently looking for my first job out of uni, hoping to work in the North near where I grew up. But if I hadn’t realised it before, the experience of looking for graduate jobs quickly made it clear that the centre of gravity for the cultural, sporting, political, financial, and most other worlds, frankly, was located a three hour train ride down the trundling East Coast mainline.

As painful as it is for us to admit, the lack of media jobs in the North is surely chiefly caused by this same dynamic rather than any malevolent anti-northern sentiment on the media’s part.

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To take a few examples: if we had real political devolution in Yorkshire we’d see more demand for news media covering it. If successive governments had moved more national sports stadiums outside the capital we’d surely see more sports media relocate to be near the action (not to knock the world class football already at Elland Road every Saturday, of course). If the National Theatre, Opera House and Gallery were based elsewhere, parts of the arts media and creative industries would follow.

And crucially, if there were serious attempts to address regional wealth imbalances, there’d be generally more economic activity in the North for the media to cover and more money to do it. The London-based Evening Standard is flush with property advertising cash; while the Leeds-based Yorkshire Post faces an uncertain future as part of the struggling Johnston Press. Any lasting change must aim to reshape these big underlying factors.

But, as it is, we’re looking at just 300 extra roles – and the reaction suggests that some feel this is job done. The worst part has been the tone of gratitude from many, as we’re handed some scraps from the overflowing London table. How about a wider conversation on really meaningful change such as moving the capital up North, directly creating at least 5000 jobs?

None of this is to say that those who worked on the bid don’t deserve congratulations. This is a good, well deserved outcome. And maybe, as a colleague said earlier, I should, “Stop complaining, it’s good news for once”.

It’s true and he’s right. But at the same time there’s value in a good Yorkshire moan and we need it now more than ever. That’s something the Channel 4 execs will, I’m sure, discover shortly.

Yorkshire native Matt Dawson tweets as @matthew__dawson.

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