Levelling up agenda questioned as Government announces plans to sell off Channel 4

The Government’s commitment to its levelling up agenda has been questioned as it plans to privatise Channel 4 after it convinced the broadcaster to move out of London and stimulate economies across the nation.

Channel 4's national headquarters in Leeds city centre when it was under construction

Concerns have been raised about the future of Channel 4’s headquarters in Leeds, which were set up in 2019, and its commitment to creating programming for under-represented audiences after the Government revealed it plans to launch a consultation on selling off the broadcaster, with potential buyers likely to include major US companies.

The move to Leeds came after Ministers urged the state-owned broadcaster to relocate outside of the capital, fulfilling a promise outlined in the Conservatives’ 2017 general election manifesto.

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Local leaders said the move has brought investment to the region and created a range of opportunities for creative professionals working in the industry.

Andrew Sheldon, creative director of production company True North, which has made several hit Channel 4 shows, said the relocation was a “catalyst for a surge in television production across the North” and “opened up an opportunity for a new generation of creatives who want to build their careers here”.

“For the Government the politics are simple – they can’t tell people in the North that they are serious about levelling up and at the same time put at risk, for short-term gain, one of their highest-profile examples of that process in action,” he said.

“No-one thinks they’ll be able to persuade a buyer to keep the channel’s public service remit.

“The Government welcomed Channel 4’s move to Leeds because it gave people in Yorkshire and elsewhere the chance to not only see themselves represented on television, but to have the opportunity to shape those programmes and to play a part in making them.

“Their promise to deliver on these things was part of the reason the red wall went blue. The question is, what’s changed?”

West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin recently raised concerns about the future of Channel 4’s Leeds headquarters and its “commitment to diversity and inclusion”, claiming the privatisation proposals have “rightly sparked much concern”.

“Privatisation risks losing the things that make Channel 4 so precious to us and risks stifling economic recovery and cultural revolution of places like West Yorkshire.”

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport declined the opportunity to comment but The Yorkshire Post understands the consultation is due to be launched this week.

When the Government announced its proposals to sell off Channel 4, which receives more than 90 per cent of its funding from advertising, it raised concerns about the broadcaster’s ability to compete with streaming giants, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

In a statement, the Government said Channel 4 was “particularly vulnerable to market fluctuations and the decline in linear TV advertising spend” and privatisation “could help secure its future as a successful and sustainable public service broadcaster”.

Conservative MP Julian Knight, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, suggested the broadcaster could be merged with ITV or BBC Worldwide – the commercial arm of the BBC – when he spoke in Parliament last week.

Minister John Whittingdale said the Government “maintains a completely open mind” about the future of the broadcaster and it has “reached no conclusion”, but his colleague had raised a “interesting possibilities”.

Channel 4 recently announced a record financial surplus of £74m in 2020 and plans to invest an extra £40m in its content over the next two years.

The broadcaster saw a 26 per cent growth in views on its All 4 streaming platform last year, as it recorded more than 1.25 billion views, and its digital advertising revenues increased by 11 per cent.