Channel 4: Mayor of West Yorkshire's letter opposing 'confusing' privatisation of network signed by dozens

Dozens of cultural and business leaders from Yorkshire have joined national politicians in signing an open letter opposing the "extraordinary and confusing decision" to privatise Channel 4.
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The letter, organised by West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin and Sir Roger Marsh OBE DL, chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and NP11 Group of Northern LEPs, has been signed by more than 70 people including mayors Dan Jarvis, Andy Burnham, Sadiq Khan, Steve Rotheram, Jamie Driscoll and Dr Nik Johnson.

Yorkshire screenwriter Kay Mellor is among the signatories, along with Screen Yorkshire chief executive Caroline Cooper Charles and Dorothy Byrne, a former head of news and current affairs for Channel 4.

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Several Yorkshire council leaders, as well as Glasgow Council leader Susan Aitken, have also signed the letter to Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries.

West Yorkshire mayor Tracy BrabinWest Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin
West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin

It states: "As leaders, creatives and businesses across the United Kingdom, we are dismayed to hear that you have decided to move forward with plans to sell Channel 4."

"The unique public service model guarantees a meaningful commitment to talent, people and ideas in places like West Yorkshire and beyond. From Bristol to Bradford, Leeds to Lincoln, Glasgow to Gwynedd: Channel 4’s remit ensures that the programming reflects the lives of people across the vibrant and diverse Britain that we are all proud to call home."

The letter follows more than 230,000 people signing a public petition against the privatisation plans, while three Tory MPs from Yorkshire have also expressed their concerns about the move in a letter to Boris Johnson as part of a growing backbench rebellion on the issue.

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Ms Brabin and Sir Roger's letter highlighted the difference Channel 4's recently-opened regional headquarters in Leeds had made to the city and the wider region.

It said: "Channel 4’s decision to bring its headquarters to Leeds followed a competitive process and recognised the qualities the region offered. The opening of the headquarters in The Majestic created 200 jobs and brought a wealth of investment, including The Hub in Bradford. But it also ignited a spark that went beyond the West Yorkshire borders.

"With the BBC’s Media City on the doorstep in Salford, the new headquarters signaled the beginning of a real Northern powerhouse in the cultural industries. Across the North, there was an excitement, with the next generation at the very forefront of our minds – a publicly owned Channel 4 bringing skills and training opportunities, apprenticeships and a genuine offer to harbour independent talent.

"We saw some of the UK’s largest independent producers setting up in the region or expanding their presence, alongside new production and studio facilities, plus significant financial support from the public sector. Is this not levelling up in action?"

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The letter added that the economic argument for privatisation "just doesn't stand up", with analysis suggesting a sell-off of the channel could put 2,400 jobs in the creative industries at risk while the channel's current model has seen it last report a surplus of £74m.

"Privatisation is a solution, where there’s no problem," it said.

"Channel 4 is a service made for us, but at no cost to us. It’s the jewel in our crown and something that we are rightly, very proud of.

"Your decision to privatise threatens the Channel 4 we know and love, its commitment to nations and regions and the UK’s unique, diverse and extraordinary creative sectors and independents.

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"We would strongly urge you to reconsider this extraordinary and confusing decision."

The letter comes after Health Secretary Sajid Javid suggested privatising Channel 4 will set the network “free”.

The broadcaster has been publicly owned since it was founded in 1982 and is funded by advertising, with the Government confirming this week it will proceed with plans to privatise it.

Plans for the sale will reportedly be set out in a White Paper later in April and will be included in a new Media Bill for spring 2023.

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Speaking to LBC Radio, Mr Javid said: “I love Channel 4. I think it’s great, but I want a Channel 4 that can compete in what is a fast-changing landscape. I think we can all agree that since Channel 4 was created the media landscape has changed.”

He added: “You must think carefully about why could it be better off being sold, and the reason is that, to compete properly, it needs to be able to raise its own funds and capital, whether that’s debt or equity, to do that in a way that it can properly compete in a vastly changing media landscape.

“This will set Channel 4 free. It will still be, by the way, a public broadcaster like ITV. It will have a public licence. They will have duties under that.

“You know, ITV is a great British broadcaster too, but it has been privately held now for many, many years. And it’s growing stronger. It has been able to compete, I think, as a result of that more effectively.

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“And, by the way, my understanding is the funds that will be raised – I don’t know how much eventually, that will have to be worked out – but the funds that will be raised, which will be considerable, from the sale will all be reinvested back in the creative industries, including independent productions.”

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said on Monday night that while Channel 4 held a “cherished place in British life” she felt that government ownership was holding the broadcaster back from “competing against streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon”.

A statement by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) said it had made the decision to allow the channel to “thrive in the face of a rapidly changing media landscape” while a Government source earlier this week said the move would “remove Channel 4’s straitjacket”.

Reports have suggested the channel could be sold for as much as £1 billion, with Ms Dorries tweeting on Monday that proceeds from the sale of Channel 4 would “be invested in left behind areas investing in indies and creative skills desperately needed in our rapidly growing creative industries”.

Full list of signatories to the letter

Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire

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Sir Roger Marsh OBE DL, Chair of the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and NP11 Group of Northern LEPs

Andy Burnham - Mayor of Greater Manchester

Dan Jarvis - Mayor of South Yorkshire

Dan Norris - West of England Metro Mayor

Jamie Driscoll - North of Tyne Mayor

Dr Nik Johnson - Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough

Sadiq Khan - Mayor of London

Steve Rotheram - Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region

Coun Bev Craig - Leader of Manchester City Council

Coun Denise Jeffery - Leader of Wakefield Council

Coun James Lewis - Leader of Leeds City Council

Coun Shabir Pandor - Leader of Kirklees Council

Coun Susan Aitken - Leader of Glasgow City Council

Coun Tim Swift - Leader of Calderdale MBC

Coun Andy D’Agorne - Deputy Leader of the Council, City of York Council

Coun Nigel Ayre - Executive Member for Finance and Performance, City of York Council

Alan Lane BEM - Artistic Director, Slung Low

Alison Hobbs - Head of Production, Candour Productions

Andrew K B Warburton - Managing Director, Area Rugs & Carpets Ltd

Andrew Sheldon - Founder True North

Ben Hepworth - Managing Director Versa Leeds Studios

Bolu Fagborun - Managing Director Fagborun Limited

Caroline Cooper Charles - Chief Executive Screen Yorkshire

Chris Squire - Creative Director Impossible Arts

Christopher Swann - Writer, TV Director & Producer

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Prof Damian Murphy - Director XR Stories, University of York

David Allison - Regional Representative for Yorkshire Writers Guild of Great Britain

David Taylor - Owner, The Edge - coaching & development

Prof David Wilson - Director, Bradford UNESCO City of Film

Deborah Munt - Board Director, Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance

Dorothy Byrne - Former Head of News and Current Affairs, Channel4

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Ellie Peers - General Secretary, Writers’ Guild of Great Britain

Fran Peters - Head of Production, Indielab

Frank Darnley - Sculptor, Cultural lead for Sowerby Bridge High Street Heritage Action Zone Sculptor; Cultural lead for Sowerby Bridge High Street Heritage Action Zone

Gavin Clayton - CEO hoot creative arts

Gill Galdins - Chair Theatre Royal Wakefield

Gill Thewlis - Director, Aperté Ltd

Graham McKenzie, Chief Exec & Artistic Director, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival

Helen Featherstone, Deputy Director Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Helen Meller, Co-Director, Arvon Lumb Bank

Jamie Sefton, Managing Director, Game Republic

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Jenny Layfield - Museum Director National Coal Mining Museum

Jess Fowle - Creative Director True North

Jessica Brown Meek - Founder, Duck Soup Films

Jo Verrent - Director, Unlimited

Kamran Rashid - Founder, Impact Hub Bradford CIC

Kath Shackleton - Producer Fettle Animation

Katie Clarke - Accessible Calderdale Project

Kay Mellor OBE - Rollem Production Company

Kay Packwood - Executive Director Northern Broadsides Theatre Company

Kevin Rivett - Music teacher, performance, Pennine Guitar Centre

Lee Brooks - CEO Production Park

Lee Corner - Director LAC Limited

Libby Durdy - Founder Duck Soup Films

Lucy Smith - Development Executive at Wise Owl Films

Nat Edwards - Chief Executive Thackray Museum of Medicine

Dr Neil Kaiper-Holmes - Chairman, Thackray Museum of Medicine

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Nicola Greenan - Head of Cultural Partnerships, Bradford City Council

Pat Fulgoni - Singer Producer Promoter

Dr Paul Gormley - Principal, MetFilm School

Peter Toon - Producer, Mikron Theatre Co

Philippa Childs - Head of Bectu

Rebecca Papworth - Managing Director, Can Can Productions

Rebekah Wray-Rogers - Founder, Duck Soup Films

Rick Ward - Creative Director, We are the Allies

Robin Cramp - Industry Development Manager, Screen Industries Growth Network

Shaun Parry - Head of Youngest North

Stuart Clarke - Festival Director, Leeds Digital Festival

Sydney Thornbury - CEO, The Art House

Zane Whittingham - Director, Fettle Animation