Dan Dalton is a Conservative MEP for the West Midlands.
Last week’s reports that Channel 4 may relocate to Birmingham was another piece of good news for the West Midlands. The case for moving certain institutions away from London is increasingly not just one born out of the desire to re-balance the economy, something the Chancellor has rightly made a priority but is also becoming a sound economic move based on the recent success of Britain’s second largest city.
If Channel 4 does move to Birmingham, it will be following the lead of many large private sector businesses who have also made the move. Businesses such as HSBC and Deutsche Bank have relocated based on a hard calculation that with business costs in London becoming increasingly expensive, moving to the West Midlands and elsewhere makes good business sense. With property prices in particular continuing to increase, businesses are discovering that the country above the Watford gap offers a whole host of opportunities.
If the Government decides to move Channel 4 and indeed other bodies away from London it will allow the public to benefit from cheaper costs of doing work outside London and cash in on the proceeds from the huge sums generated selling off the prime space on buildings such as Horseferry Road, the current home of Channel 4. Indeed, Channel 4’s own valuation published last year shows the building would likely fetch around £85 million, a huge sum to be reinvested in further re-balancing our economy.
The West Midlands is in prime position to host and grow businesses moved from London. Our region is currently going through a huge revitalisation period with Birmingham growing faster than any other city outside the capital, in turn becoming a leading start-up hub. The historic home of Britain’s entrepreneurial might is reawakening with over 18,000 new businesses created in the past year, many of those started by people who are increasingly tired of London and wanting to invest their energies elsewhere.
Birmingham is rich in cultural diversity and is attracting ever larger numbers of highly skilled professionals and graduates. The government can help support this growth by relocating Channel 4 to the city, something which would bring in thousands of new skilled jobs in the media industry and the development of related industries within it. The BBC’s move to Salford has transformed and revitalised the area and despite Channel 4 being smaller in size, a move to Birmingham would not be any less significant. It could also act as a catalyst for other Departments to look at how they could utilise the other regions and would be a signal to business that the Government backs the local skills and energies of Britain’s other cities – something which is attractive to businesses when considering where to invest.
Government Departments should look no further than the success of Deutsche Bank, in its move away from London. It started in Birmingham less than a decade ago with just 30 staff yet now has 1,500 staff. It cites the excellent transport facilities, good standard of living, shorter commutes and strong local talent pool. Relocating to the Midlands has in turn significantly reduced its costs and is a living, thriving example of why we should not fear looking away from London for our future growth.
The West Midlands has been one of the great success stories of the past five years. It is forging a reputation as an area able to compete with the world’s best in a whole host of sectors, not least the hyper-competitive car industry, where Jaguar Land Rover is recording spectacular sales. Just this week, I visited Birmingham Airport to see the first in a series of direct flights from Birmingham to Beijing. Our local success in working with China is unparalleled across the UK. Exports to China last year were worth £5.3 billion, according to UKTI figures, up 30 per cent on 2013. Indeed, we are the only region in the UK to have an export surplus with China, worth an astonishing £2.76 billion in 2014. Contrast that to the overall £20 billion deficit in UK-Sino trade and the West Midland’s success is even more stark.
In 2014 the number of foreign direct investment projects in the West Midlands was the highest it has been for over a decade, and we were the second best performing region in the UK in terms of jobs created by FDI. It is no surprise then, that as a party we did so well here in the general election, increasing majorities and adding new seats. We have shown we can compete with the best and more importantly this means we are ready to expand new industries. The Government can help by supporting the move of Channel 4 and also look at the viability of relocating other industries, including any temporary move of Parliament away from Westminster.
There are many who seem to argue against relocating away from London on the basis it is a great, world city and should remain that way. This is simply the argument of inertia – London is and will remain the world’s premier city regardless of it redistributing some public services up north. If we are serious about re-balancing the UK economy, ideas such as this must be seen as viable.