The culture secretary has toned down plans to move Channel 4’s headquarters outside London by saying that not all of the broadcaster’s operations have to move from the capital.
Speaking at the Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge, Karen Bradley said she wanted Channel 4 to have a “major presence” outside London and that decisions about what programmes it showed “should not all be made in the bubble of Westminster”.
However, while Bradley’s comments confirm that Channel 4 will now almost certainly have to move some staff outside London and increase spending outside the city, she also offered an olive branch to the broadcaster on relocation.
The culture secretary said that “relocation may not mean the whole business” and that her preference was to “agree a way forward in concert with Channel 4”.
This represents a rowing back of government rhetoric about Channel 4’s location. The Conservative manifesto for the 2017 general election said: “Channel 4 will remain publicly owned and will be relocated out of London.”
The comments were welcomed by Channel 4, which opposes the relocation of its entire headquarters because of the cost and disruption.
The government launched a consultation about Channel 4’s impact earlier this year and this led to a dozen local authorities expressing an interest in hosting all or part of the broadcaster’s operations, including Birmingham, Liverpool and Sheffield.
Bradley said legislation could be used to force the move, but she revealed she had already had constructive discussions with Alex Mahon, who starts as the new boss of Channel 4 in November, and she hoped to reach an agreement with the broadcaster by the end of the year. These changes should be implemented by the end of parliament, which is 2022 at the latest, the culture secretary said.
“There is cross-party agreement on the fact that Channel 4 needs to do more and we can, if we need to, legislate,” Bradley said. “ But I don’t think we will get to that point. I am confident we can work with Channel 4 to come up with something that works for the organisation without the need for legislation.”
On whether she wanted Channel 4 to move its headquarters outside London or increase spending on commissioning outside the city, Bradley said: “I think it is about a combination of things, but I think it’s also where the decisions are made. I am very clear that what we want is for decisions to be made outside London and I will work with Channel 4 to get to a point where we are all comfortable and we can see that there is a transparent decision-making process outside London, so that Channel 4’s decisions are taken reflecting the nations and regions of the UK.”
In response to Bradley’s comments, a Channel 4 spokesperson said: “We are committed to increasing Channel 4’s regional impact and welcome the secretary of state’s desire to work with us to achieve this.
“Channel 4 is proud of our leadership on diversity and the existing contribution we make to the nations and regions and we are developing innovative and sustainable proposals to grow this further and give even greater support to creative talent across the UK.”