Peter Salmon: speech to Local Government Association

Date: 07.03.2013     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 17.53
Category: Corporate; BBC North
Speech given by Peter Salmon to the Local Government Association in Chester on Thursday 7 March, 2013.

Good afternoon.

I don't need to tell anyone in the public sector that these are challenging times. Budgets have been cut and jobs are closing. And there is a real chance of further belt tightening.

Yet at the same time we are all working hard to make sure that the quality of services is maintained for customers and audiences. Innovation delivered. Changes made to how we work.

How?

There is no easy or magic solution. And the options rarely deliver successful results overnight. What we must do is build foundations that achieve long-term and sustainable results.

BBC North became fully operational against a background of the Corporation's deepest spending cuts in its history. The Licence Fee has been frozen until 2017. In real terms this equates to a 16 per cent budget cut with the BBC setting itself a higher target of making savings of 20 per cent - all in the context of our existing efficiency programme that has already achieved one billion pounds saved since 2008/2009.

As well as targeting overheads we have had to make tough choices about programme investment and jobs across every division.

Even a start-up like BBC North has not been immune.

Moving north was fundamentally about getting closer to licence payers here in terms of making programmes both more relevant and more local. And finding savings. This has led us to rethink how we operate - not only in terms of our workforce but also developing new ways to operate more efficiently in our new state of the art home. Everything from training production staff to multi-skill to new ways of working in every department and most importantly the technology we use.

The stakes have been high - to still deliver some of our most ambitious and stretching programmes and campaigns in decades. 

Take London 2012 for example. The audience never missed a moment as the BBC delivered the Olympics across television, radio, online and 24 digital streams. And given the increasing digital-focus of the audience, almost two million people downloaded the dedicated app and 55 million visited BBC Sport online alone. 

The BBC's successful delivery of the Olympics was possible because of the advanced digital technology we built at MediaCityUK. This same technology will also underpin the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the Winter Olympics next year - as well as the Football World Cup and Olympics in Brazil.

And the old adage that ‘content is king’ even exists outside the world of the media.

It's interesting, for example, to see how Chester is investing in its own cultural heritage for the future with its One City Plan and the ambition to be Capital of Culture in 2017.

When the Romans founded Chester - they called it Deva Victrix - they built the largest stone amphitheatre in Britain. Today it is the focal point for Chester's long-term efforts to increase its profile as an international tourist destination.

In the city centre, a former cinema is being redeveloped to house a brand new theatre and a new library. And Chester Zoo will create over 100 new jobs and attract seventy thousand new visitors to the city when it opens its Islands Projects.

For the BBC, the Licence Fee is our engine of investment.

As well as the programmes that are made by our own in-house creative teams, the BBC invests millions of pounds in independent production companies, animation companies, digital media businesses and facilities providers across the UK.

The creation of BBC North has led to a deliberate and planned increase in programme investment across the North of England.

As well as working with locally based companies like digital agency Th_nk in Newcastle and Numiko in Leeds and TV indies like Kay Mellor's Rollem Productions in Yorkshire, or Manchester's Red Productions - makers of Last Tango In Halifax - BBC North is also supporting productions from elsewhere in the UK to come up work in the region.

Take BBC One's The Paradise for example, filmed near Durham, or The Village, a brand new epic drama starring Maxine Peake and John Simm, filmed in Hayfield, Derbyshire.

And this investment has a wider impact.

Successive economic studies of the BBC demonstrate that every pound invested by the Corporation results in two pounds being generated in the wider economy. In fact, the most recent study for 2011/2012 demonstrated that the BBC had generated eight billion pounds of economic value - nearly twice the Licence Fee - in the UK.

In the North and because of the BBC's new base in Salford, that gross value added figure for the region grew almost 20 per cent on the previous year to three hundred and ninety-one million pounds (£391m). 

However, at BBC North we believe that actual investment is only part of the equation. Collaboration, partnerships and joint working are just as important, and might have longer lasting value.

Anyone visiting MediaCityUK cannot fail to notice that a collaborative approach starts literally on the doorstep. The BBC is part of a campus alongside ITV, almost one hundred SMEs ranging from digital media companies to law firms and accountants, the University of Salford, the Lowry Theatre and the Imperial War Museum North.

We do not exist in splendid isolation. And we can't possibly succeed on our own.

BBC North is a BBC built for the future not only in terms of its technology infrastructure but also its frame of mind.

We strongly believe that any modern public organisation looking to make a difference must work with others. Partnership and leveraging shared objectives and ambition is critical to create the widest, most sustainable impact. Whether that's culture, skills, education or simply regional pride.

So from our base in Salford we are have started to experiment, to try different ways of working with organisations, towns and cities not only to deliver greater value to the audience but also to create a longer-lasting, deeper connection that goes beyond pennies and pounds. Relationships we can continue to build on.

The model was established almost two years ago at Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds. BBC North brought together departments from across the BBC to work with Leeds Council and other organisations across the city - dance groups, students and marketing experts - to create the multi-award-winning event, Frankenstein's Wedding... Live In Leeds. Over 10,000 people from across the UK braved a cold but beautiful evening - almost all of them dressed in wonderful wedding finery - to take part.

Last year BBC North with BBC Religion and BBC Drama worked with Preston Guild to create BBC One's The Preston Passion for Good Friday. It was moving experience and again highly successful.

This June we are working with organisations in Bradford to create Bollywood Live - part of the city's celebrations as UNESCO's City of Film as well as the centenary of the first Indian feature film. Taking place in City Park, it will retell Bizet's Carmen in contemporary Bradford and will be broadcast live on BBC Three. Part of a wider festival taking place throughout June in that lively West Yorkshire city, it hopes to attract people from across the UK as well as wider afield.

More recently, just a week ago in fact, the Corporation's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, held BBC Showcase, its annual sales event in Liverpool, your close neighbour here in Chester, for the second year running. Thousands of buyers from across the globe descended on Merseyside to view more than two thousand hours of television and hopefully spend the best part of £50m buying programmes.

At the same time we announced a range of Liverpool based output of arts, music, talk and religious events that will make this one of our busiest BBC years yet in that bustling city - all planned from Salford. A typical yet remarkable programme will see Rankin, the iconic photographer, open his latest and challenging exhibition Alive: In The Face of Death at the world famous Walker Art Gallery - a partnership that we have developed with Liverpool's Museums over two years - and which will feature in an hour long special on BBC Two.

Indeed, our divisions based at Salford, supported by their BBC colleagues UK-wide, have spent much time on the road here in the last two years. BBC Radio 5 live has hosted events in Liverpool, Stoke, Hull and Sheffield and BBC Children's has been busy with events and programmes as far apart as Middlesbrough and Staithes on the East Coast to the Isle of Man and Lancashire in the West.

And each of these events, as well as forging a closer relationship with our audiences, can directly benefit the local economies of the region. It's early days yet - we have only just completed our first full year of operating in numbers in the North - but I don't think any part of the region has been overlooked in our search for stories, locations and talent.

At the weekend we won an award for our Children's shows at a ceremony some of us attended in Gateshead. It recognised the renewal of production and investment in great kids' shows there, building on the rich traditions of Byker Grove. That renewed commitment is helping put the North East of England on the network agenda again - to millions of viewers - and was a concerted plan to boost drama output is raising the profile and investment in one of our most stunning English regions, the North East.

Thank you.