Moving the BBC: Leaving London is hard to do
Big chunks of the BBC are leaving London for the North. But will its staff follow?
The BBC, the government-funded media organisations that dominates TV, Radio and the web here in the UK, is moving some of its major programmes and departments away from its bases in London such as Broadcasting House, above, to a new base in Salford, near Manchester in the North of England.
It hopes this will make these programmes slightly cheaper to make, but the move is also part of a government-wide ambition to decentralise its functions. In the main, this is to try to spread government spending around less economically successful parts of the country and reduce their isolation (although Manchester, as a major city with a vibrant cultural life, hardly counts here).
But will Will Smith travel to Salford?
And as a response to this, the media here in London has been full of stories of what a disaster this will be. Headlines include concern that major programmes will lose top guests. So Alison Ford, editor of the TV show BBC Breakfast, has been quoted as a saying it was "naïve" to think bringing A-list stars to the Manchester would be easy.
She added: "There are certain people who at the moment are more accessible and they won’t be in the future – politicians, celebrities, opinion formers. Will we get Will Smith on the sofa in Salford? It would be naive of me to say ‘oh yes, it’ll be fine’. It won’t be as easy as it is now."
And will the BBC's staff follow?
More interestingly, it may also lose its presenters and other key staff. As one presenter, Sian Williams, has said: ‘My two younger children are four and 19 months, so they’re portable, but my eldest is 19 and at university.” The existing ties that staff have developed with London make it very difficult to move.
This of course has implications for a lot of creative industries policies, particularly those building on Richard Florida’s ideas of the creative class. Staff do seem to want to live in attractive areas, but if they are static and tied to places by family commitments, what chance have areas with recent investment in the quality of the built environment? It's important that policy makers recognise that investing in the creative and cultural industries for regeneration is never a short term fix, but it will provide long term benefits.