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Regional Broadcasting (East Midlands)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:30 pm on 30th March 2004.

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Photo of Alan Meale Alan Meale Labour, Mansfield 3:30 pm, 30th March 2004

My hon. Friend is right. As I said, it is Ofcom's job to represent people and to safeguard and protect their rights and opportunities in this respect. He is right about the investment. There is a commitment in the ITV charter to expand news services more than the BBC. That has not been done. It has not even been proposed. This is solely about profit. I have just reminded the Minister and hon. Members about the very profitable programmes that have been made in Nottingham such as "Family Fortunes, "Popstars and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. Nottingham is profitable. It may not profitable enough for the people at ITV who want to disband it and cash in on it, but that is not a good enough reason to do so.

To move the production from Nottingham to Birmingham would be a disaster and would lead to the wholesale break-up of news teams and the dislocation of operations. Worse still, it would undermine the relationship between broadcasting and its audience, a vital ingredient in any local communication provision. That is a factor that even Charles Allen, the chief executive of ITV, admitted in October 2002 when he stated:

"People like local TV. People like local news and we would be daft not to encourage it.

He is not doing that at present. He is encouraging local news, but that local news is not in the east midlands, it is in the west midlands. In the east midlands, it is yet another part of the jigsaw which is about controlling all news networking throughout Britain and reducing the costs.

I should not need to remind the Minister that at the heart of the debate lies the fact that the east midlands has a firmly established identity of its own. It is socio-economically and culturally different from its neighbours, most notably the west midlands and Birmingham in particular. Its industries, which are predominantly food production, coal mining, clothing, textiles and other types of apparel production, contrast with the engineering, car manufacturing and high-tech industries of the west midlands. The difference is probably best expressed by the two regional development areas that represent the two regions. They have a different make-up, they have different characters on their boards and they are geared to the needs of the various local interests.

As I said earlier, I intend to give time to other hon. Members to speak, so I will summarise briefly. According to a recent report by Cambridge Econometrics, two thirds of people claim that their local television company is their main source of local news, so Government action to protect it is imperative, especially if the reorganisation of local radio is anything to go by. Local news nowadays is little other than a series of regurgitated sound clips produced and broadcast mostly from centres that in some cases are hundreds of miles from the neighbourhoods they serve—or do not serve.

The same will undoubtedly be the case if TV programmes are produced and staffed by people who neither live in nor have any affinity with the areas that they are reporting, a likely scenario if the closure of ITV centre Nottingham goes ahead.

For those reasons and others, I ask the Minister to intervene in the matter. It is crucial to the east midlands that, like her constituency in the west midlands, we have the opportunity to develop our region in a way that suits the hearts, minds, needs and aspirations of the people we serve. It is not good enough, just for the sake of profit, for these centres to be closed down and left to the people who made such a mess of the City, the stock exchange and the pension provisions of most of our constituents.