Lucy Powell – 2022 Speech on Channel 4 Privatisation

The speech made by Lucy Powell, the Labour MP for Manchester Central, in the House of Commons on 27 April 2022.

The sell-off of Channel 4 is an important matter for Parliament, yet instead of a statement we had announcement by tweet during recess, and now we hear that a White Paper is to be published tomorrow, when we will not be here and there will not be an opportunity for statements. Where is the Secretary of State to defend her policy today? It is a pattern, and it is a disgrace. Nothing screams rudderless Government like fixating on the governance of Channel 4 while people’s energy bills are going through the roof. It did not even make the list of pretty bad ideas discussed at yesterday’s Cabinet.

Why sell off Channel 4, and why now? Is it because there is an overwhelming clamour from the public? The Government still have not published the 60,000 consultation responses, but my understanding is that the vast majority were against any sale. Is it to help level up the country? Given that Channel 4 commissions half its budget outside London, creating a pipeline of talent across the nations and regions, and stimulating the creative economy in places such as Leeds, Glasgow and Bristol, of course it is not. Is it to create more British jobs in our world-leading creative industries? The Minister and I both know that the likely buyers are going to be the big US media companies, looking for a shop window for their own content. That will mean fewer British-made programmes for British audiences and fewer British jobs. Any UK bidder could lead to less competition, and of course they would be looking at economies of scale.

Is it to support the independent production sector? Channel 4 is currently, uniquely, a publisher-broadcaster, allowing start-ups and independents to retain the value of their own programmes, helping them grow and export. No buyer is going to continue with that model. That is why the UK independent production sector is so overwhelmingly against the sell-off. Or is it to save the Treasury money? I know that the Secretary of State was a bit confused about this in front of the Select Committee, but Channel 4 does not cost the taxpayer a single penny. Indeed, its profits are all reinvested in British jobs and programming.

The Secretary of State says the sell-off is needed to help Channel 4 compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon. The truth is it will be gobbled up by them. She says the sell-off will generate a pot of up to £1 billion for her to dish out in grants, but Channel 4 already invests that amount here, commercially, each and every year. She says she will protect the essence of Channel 4 in a new remit, but I thought that was the straitjacket she wanted to free it from. The truth is that the sell-off just does not stack up, and the Secretary of State is running scared of Parliament. In fact, it is going to clog up Parliament for months to come because she has no mandate to do it and there is widespread opposition to it on her own Benches.

I can only conclude that this is a deliberate distraction from partygate, a vendetta against Channel 4 news coverage, or another act of cultural vandalism. Channel 4 is a great British asset, owned by the public, that does not cost them a penny. It commissions award-winning British programmes owned by the small independent sector. That is why Margaret Thatcher invented it, and that is why the Government are wrong to sell it off.