Channel 4 key to broadcasting Birmingham’s digital capabilities

The prospect of Birmingham becoming a host city for Channel 4 as well as the base for a new digital skills centre have both been highlighted by candidates vying to be the first West Midlands Mayor.

Beverley Nielsen (Liberal Democrat) said if the city could lure the broadcaster it would be a major step in helping to develop a new Media City hub in Birmingham similar to the set up in Salford Quays.

Meanwhile, Conservative Andy Street has made the creation of a Digital Skills Institute and a new graduate retention programme cornerstones of his election manifesto.

He said both would be pivotal in helping the region prepare for the Digital Revolution and support the bid to bring Channel 4 here.

Ms Nielsen said if Peaky Blinders author Steven Knight’s mooted TV studios was also to happen then this could prove irresistible to the Media City plan.

She said several potential sites in and around Birmingham had been proposed as a potential base for Channel 4 so that if the broadcaster bowed to government pressure to relocate some of its 800-plus staff away from London then there would be facilities ready.

Mr Street said the city’s digital potential was enormous, with more than 72,000 digital and creative  jobs in the West Midlands through businesses such as Codemasters, Serious Games International, ASOS and Fujitsu.

There are forecast to be 29,000 more jobs in these industries by 2030.

Mr Street said it was therefore vital that a coherent plan for the sector was in place.

Launching his Digital Plan for the West Midlands, Mr Street committed to:
•    Co-sponsor technology accelerators where West Midlands businesses could develop new spin-off start-up ventures, for example, the new London Midland Labs transport accelerator.
•    Create a Mayor’s Digital Skill’s Institute with responsibility for leading digital training efforts in the West Midlands, bringing companies, start-ups, schools, colleges, and universities together to design and co-ordinate training efforts.
•    Retain graduates who study in the West Midlands and encourage them to make their careers in the region.
•    Support innovative new approaches to skills training such as digital boot camps, which would train young people in basic coding and user experience design skills.

Ms Nielsen said: “To me, we need to regard both (Channel 4 and Steven Knight’s studios) as potential elements of a new Media City, and a site near the NEC would be perfect, given the presence of Birmingham Airport, the West Coast main-line, the M42, and a future HS2 station.”

“Film-making and programme-making are international business sectors, and having a large strategic location dedicated to those industries would give the West Midlands a genuine competitive advantage in the fight to attract other companies.

“We need to build a mixed media offer including HD TV and audio studios, digital post-production, cloud media management services and advanced connectivity options as well as encouraging apprenticeship provision and full integration into our education offer in the region.”

Meanwhile, Mr Street added: “The Mayor needs to lead the charge to bring digital skills and digital jobs to the West Midlands. We need someone who has the necessary experience and skills to make it the digital revolution success for the West Midlands.”

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