UK Media Policy.What Next?
Those in or near to Government who read this blog have hinted that the department responsible for broadcasting is now ready to move on to thinking about how to grow the UK content industries. After all, we are told– frequently – that one of our national assets is “creativity”.
That is certainly the mantra of the person reported to be the Government’s economics guru, Richard Florida.
A Conservative is not going to be dirigiste, of course. Anyway, the Florida message is work with what you have got. He pushes three T’s: talent, technology and tolerance and his definition of creative extends to anyone with new ideas.
While the Prime Minister was in China recently, promoting British trade, commentators like the Economist noted we are not the country that mainly has the kinds of traditional exports that China wants to buy right now. Germany sells China $55.8bn worth of goods, against our $9.5bn, which is exceeded by both France and Italy.
While anyone would want to boost traditional trade (a $1.2bn deal for Rolls Royce engines emerged from the trip), we will have to recognise and boost our softer assets, like our universities and private schools, which attract large numbers from India and China.
There is, of course, another way to raise money to pay off its deficit: that is by privatising of Government-owned assets. And many Conservatives would regard privatisation as a way energising an industry and freeing it to raise capital for investment.
So one of my guesses is that the privatisation of BBC Worldwide will shortly go on to the sort of informal agenda that follows when a Government wants to prepare opinion — rather than move quickly as it did with the recent BBC Licence fee negotiation.
A recent paper by Nigel Hawkins for the Adam Smith Institute suggests that a sale of BBC Worldwide could raise £2.0 bn.
And how would the BBC respond to this? My guess, again only a guess, is that the BBC management would not be strongly opposed. However it would probably push for something intermediate like a part-privatisation.
And what of Channel 4? That’s a trickier issue – and the estimated benefits, perhaps £500m, not so great. I guess that there would be opposition to BSkyB or ITV buying C4. If the Government pushed for privatisation, Chief Executive, David Abraham, free from conventional shareholder pressure, would probably go for the stock market and a sale to private shareholders.