Channel 4: Privatisation — [Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:50 am on 21st July 2021.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 9:50 am, 21st July 2021

I would like to pick up where Sir Peter Bottomley left off, because I was two months old when Channel 4 began broadcasting. I have grown up with it, and I think it is a fantastic channel. I am incredibly proud that Channel 4 has its creative hub in my constituency, so I stand to support its work, the £200 million that it has spent on Scottish productions since 2007, its commitment to increase spend in Scotland, and its bringing on of young talent, which is incredibly important to the industry.

I was really impressed when I went to visit one of the initiatives that Channel 4 ran to bring talent stream into TV, where it is still a challenge to work with under-represented groups. It is working very hard to bring folk into the industry. As well as being based in Glasgow Central, Channel 4 is important for independent production companies in my constituency because it has invested in indies through the alpha fund, the emerging indie fund and the indie growth fund. Those indies take risks and do different types of broadcasting, but it is the public service broadcasting model that underpins all that work.

Last year, Channel 4 worked with 161 production companies up and down the country and in their communities. Although people might see the front door of Channel 4, they do not always see the front door of the production companies that employ so many more people in skilled jobs. Blazing Griffin is one such company based in my constituency. It is a medium-sized production company that specialises in post-production and video games, and it has 60 full-time employees in Glasgow. When I spoke to people there yesterday, they highlighted the importance of the regulated environment in which Channel 4 exists and made specific reference to the terms of trade, which mean that Channel 4 does not own its copyright. That gives production companies a huge advantage, because they can own their intellectual property and sell it domestically and internationally. That contributes to international trade for this country, which I think the Government have completely forgotten about. As hon. Members have pointed out, privatisation may mean that that unique selling point will vanish overnight and destroy, at a stroke, a hugely successful industry.

[Yvonne Fovargue in the Chair]

Independent production companies have gone from making a contribution of £600 million in 2001 to £3 billion in 2019, and the UK punches well above its weight in that contribution. Naysun Alae-Carew of Blazing Griffin pointed out to me that the story of Channel 4 is not yet complete. The early fruits of its investment in the nations and regions and in young talent have not yet been completed, and it would be premature of the Government to try to flog off the channel and pull the plug at this stage because there is a lot more to do in order to bring new voices to television, to bring in the nations and regions, and to bring black, Asian and minority-ethnic talent and working-class talent into TV. Channel 4, almost uniquely, is absolutely committed to doing that.

Blazing Griffin is working in a long-term, full-time and high-quality area in post-production jobs, and it points out that we need to look beyond the crew and location work that we often see at the front of TV, and to increase the spread of highly skilled, very stable and very lucrative jobs in areas such as post-production. As Blazing Griffin has pointed out, the Channel 4 model is absolutely crucial to that.

A lot has been said about Netflix, but Netflix also does post-production in the UK, and can do so only because of the Channel 4 ecosystem. Naysun Alae-Carew pointed out to me yesterday that when US states with incentives or short-term measures cut their investment—New Mexico was given as an example—the production companies and big corporates just move on to the next state. It would be incredible if the UK Government decided to pull the plug and allow a highly successful, talented and skilled industry in this country to fold for short-term gain. It would devastate the industry here, so I urge the Minister to consider the full ecosystem that exists because of the unique position that Channel 4 is in.