'Regions like the North East have lots to offer,' says Bishop Helen-Ann

First published on: 20th May 2024

'Regions like the North East have lots to offer the broadcasting sector,' says Bishop Helen-Ann as she speaks in the House of Lords to support an amendment to the Media Bill. Read her full speech below. 

My Lords, I speak to Amendments 16 and 17, tabled by the noble Lady, Baroness Fraser, which I have added my name to in support.

Our country is one of diversity. The four nations that make up the UK include many regions – each with their own culture, sense of humour, accent, concerns, and interests. As public service broadcasters are owned by the whole of the UK public, it is important that they truly reflect the public they serve, in its all its regional diversity.

I regrettably could not be present in the House for Day 1 of Committee to support the noble Lord Dunlop’s amendments that seek to ensure that our public service broadcasters reflect the diversity of this nation through the protection of Gaelic broadcasting. I hope that I will be present to express my support at report stage.

With Channel 4’s current quotas, 91% of their production is reserved for England and 65% for London. Their London-centric attitude to production is confirmed through their claim that ‘the UK production sector continues to be significantly smaller outside London’ and that ‘there are fewer production companies, often smaller in scale, and therefore with less capacity to develop creative ideas and produce them’.

Along with independent production companies across the country, I dispute this. The BBC has not faced difficulties adhering to its higher regional quotas, and indeed demonstrates that significantly expanding production networks outside of London is possible and yields positive results that attract interest and investment.

Ensuring support for the creative sector outside of London requires intentionality. New and smaller production companies cannot grow without regular and sustained employment. Implementing quotas would ensure these businesses receive regular income in the longer-term, allowing them to grow, whilst nurturing local talent and skills.

As the noble Baroness Fraser outlined in her excellent speech, quotas work. The BBC now aims that 60% of its TV production takes place outside London by 2027/28, and its production bases in cities throughout the country demonstrate how the industry is capable of diversifying its production locations, employing staff from local economies. These amendments would simply place the same quotas on other public service broadcasters.

In March, the Government confirmed funding towards the development of Crown Works Studios in Sunderland – a very welcome investment. The potential for the North-East in this sector is at last gaining recognition. This should be partnered with legislation to ensure that studios outside London, such as Crown Works, are fully utilised by public service broadcasters.

With Northumbria University ranking 2nd in the Guardian’s latest university league table for film production, our region is not lacking in talented, skilled, and creative minds in this sector. What is lacking is opportunity.

Those who want to pursue a career in broadcasting are being pulled away from the region to London, taking their skills with them. Those who remain in the region face a lack of opportunity. For many, their talent and potential is left unfulfilled. These amendments seek to change this narrative.

By placing a requirement on Ofcom to ensure that public service broadcasters produce 50% of their programmes outside of London, and 16% outside of England, in proportion to each UK nation’s relative population, and measured by both hours broadcast and expenditure, these amendments would equitably spread opportunity across this country’s regions.

The different regions and nations throughout the UK are rich in creative skills, yet my Lords, we are all left poorer if we continue to neglect them.

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