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Registering risk makes sense

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Peter Salmon Peter Salmon | 11:39 UK time, Monday, 1 August 2011

MediaCityUK publicity picture

Every project has its naysayers, and BBC North is no different. Before the first stone was laid at Salford Quays the national and mainly Southern-based media claimed it was a vanity project; a political deal; that it would never succeed and that no one would go.

Despite the almost constant barrage of negativity everyone involved with the project carried on because they believed in the endgame. That we would build - together with our partners on the campus and across the North of England - a state-of-the-art, digital creative community that would not only be part of the long-term and sustainable future of the local economy, but would forge a new and closer relationship with audiences across the North of England. And just as important, that it would help create a new BBC for the digital age.

Even before we opened our doors at MediaCityUK, we began to slowly embed ourselves in the Northern community. We invested in new commissions across BBC Childrens, BBC Sport and BBC Radio 5 live. For example, next weekend tune into Radio 5 live for the first part of Cancer Trials - Behind The Scenes at the Christie. This is a remarkable piece of journalism from Blakeway North in Manchester and a direct result of our Kicker Fund investment in new programmes for the network. I defy anyone not to be humbled by the bravery of everyone featured in the programme. And at the other end of the spectrum click on the CBeebies and CBBC websites to see how our half a million pound investment in digital companies from across the North of England is taking shape with Mr Bloom's Nursery from Sheffield-based The Workshop and CBBC's The Joke Theatre from Newcastle's Th_nk.

Earlier this year we worked with numerous partners (BBC Three, BBC Cymru, Leeds city Council, Welcome to Yorkshire, Marketing Leeds and Phoenix Dance Company) to bring Frankenstein's Wedding...Live In Leeds to thousands of people at Kirkstall Abbey as well as to BBC Three's audience. The ambition of the Frankenstein team was duly recognised when they were awarded Best Live Event at the Broadcast Digital Awards. More recently we brought the piazza outside our buildings to life with a series of audience events. In June, the BBC Philharmonic Presents festival launched the orchestra's first ever free music festival for local residents. Over two weeks Salford audiences enjoyed everything from Baroque to Dubstep, and each concert was broadcast on BBC radio. And only a few weeks ago some of the BBC's most popular characters took part in the Manchester International Festival. CBeebies' Zingzillas were a major feature of Music Boxes and Doctor Who thrilled and terrified audiences who visited The Crash of the Elysium.

We've also been laying the foundations for partnerships with local universities and schools through Connect & Create. Over two hundred students have completed work placements with the BBC and we have run specific placements with Vision+Media North West as well as Salford University. And as vitally, we are making a real commitment to local employment and training. So far we have recruited over 400 new people to BBC North and launched dedicated apprenticeship and ambassador programmes in the Greater Manchester area.

And all this before we even began the 36-week process of relocating our staff to Bridge, Dock and Quay Houses - our new offices on Salford Quays.

To date over 700 people have moved in, and by April 2012 there will be 2,300 BBC staff working at MediaCityUK. These aren't only staff from London and Manchester but new staff who are joining the BBC for the very first time. And from London alone the combined total confirmed as moving is 55 per cent - significantly higher than the national average for a move of this scale, which stands at 35 per cent.

So far, everything is going according to plan and we remain on time and on budget.

But we are not naïve enough to think that there won't be the odd bump or graze between now and next April. On a project of this scale and ambition - the biggest that the BBC has ever undertaken - we should be prepared for every eventuality and that's why we asked every department to list their worse case scenarios on our Risk Register.

Some of you will be acquainted with the BBC's Risk Register. Every big organisation has one and every department at the BBC is required to keep it updated. It lists any and all hypothetical risks to the business, but that doesn't mean that they will happen. By virtue of what departments are asked to consider, the risks can and do range in terms of scale and potential severity but they help ensure that the BBC is able to effectively manage and deliver its projects successfully. Indeed, it would be negligent not to have a Risk Register that covered every potential scenario.

So last week when, under a Freedom of Information request, we issued the Risk Register for BBC North to www.whatdotheyknow.com, it was only a matter of time before a naysayer discovered it. And it didn't take long. This weekend, The Sunday Times pulled together a story under the misleading headline 'Auntie Fears Making No Friends In The North'. Inevitably they were very quick to list the most attention-grabbing risks listed in the register - everything from the loss of key staff and the potential reduction in programme quality to failing to understand Northern audiences or meeting efficiencies. Needless to say they didn't - for the sake of a more balanced report - make clear to their readers the precise nature of the register or the mitigations listed against these risks in their story.

It would be nice to hope that even our harshest critics could take a step back and look at the bigger picture, to stop their hectoring and begin to embrace a future that isn't London-centric. Of course, London will always remain central to our national Creative Industries, but good things can and are happening beyond the capital too.

The North is amazingly rich with talent, people with promise and companies with amazing ideas like Sumo (Sheffield), Brass (Leeds), Amaze (Manchester), Conker Media (Liverpool), Pearl Works Productions (Yorkshire), Soundscape Productions (York), True North (Leeds) and Red (Manchester) to name but a few. All of them are making a real contribution to the future of television, radio and online and BBC North wants to help encourage, support and work with them.

That is our ambition and - touch wood - we remain on track to realise this. But if we do encounter a bump in the road, or have to swerve unexpectedly for whatever reason, we should be confident that the Risk Register will help us find a solution.

Peter Salmon is Director of BBC North

  • You can read the BBC's response to the Freedom of Information request that triggered the Sunday Times article - including the risk register mentioned - on the What Do They Know web site.


  • Comment number 1.

    Just because you are engaging with local interests (Hoorah and well done!) has no relevance at all to the fact that the BBC is THE national broadcaster. Do not forget that and do not be so flippant about the views of us southerners.

    Media City was and is a political construct that came about during the last but one licence fee settlement. Please be honest.

  • Comment number 2.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/sporteditors/2011/07/f1_coverage_to_be_shared_betwe.html 7000+ comments and no response from the BBC, can someone please let F1 fans know what's happening to coverage next year?

  • Comment number 3.

    Everyone is making far too much out of this move. The South is full and expensive, the North is cheap and there's space. It doesn't really matter where you run your business from these days anyway - you can achieve the same outcomes.

  • Comment number 4.

    Ultimately, I feel the move should only be judged on the quality of future output. Give it a little time and I expect it'll be one of the best decisions the BBC has ever made.

  • Comment number 5.

    Not sure how anyone can accuse the BBC of ignoring southerners when there is still a long standing committment to have 1000s of employees and the majority of production based in central and west London.

    Any big move like this is bound to have challenges and 'risks' and it would be ridiculous not to be considering all of those.

    I agree with Jenny_5 - the true impact is only going to be seen long-term and I suspect and hope (even as a southerner) that this will be a really positive step towards producing programmes that audiences across the whole of the UK will enjoy.

  • Comment number 6.

    It's really rather entertaining for those of us who have chosen to live and work in the North, to see the increasingly desperate lengths some London-based media will go to pour scorn on the BBC's move to Salford. The smugly superior AA Gill in The Sunday Times is particularly comical in his loathing of television from the regions and snide swipes at life in Northern towns (today it was the turn of Scarborough). In common with ITV, Sky and Channel 4, the BBC will continue to focus most of its production and all of its commissioners in the capital. So why the hysteria about the move to the North West?


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