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BBC to open tech centre in Newcastle with praise for city's digital potential

BBC to open tech centre in Newcastle with praise for city's digital potential

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BBC director general Tony Hall has announced plans to open a major tech centre in Newcastle with praise for the city’s digital and creative potential.

Lord Hall said the BBC would be opening a tech hub in the city and described Newcastle as a “city looking for fresh ideas, collaboration and innovation”

The commitment to the new centre came as Lord Hall signalled plans to increase the BBC’s drive to move staff and programme making away from London, with an aim of having two-thirds of its activities in the regions by 2027.

It is not yet known whether the new tech hub will be based at the BBC’s existing Newcastle site - the ‘Pink Palace’ on Barrack Road - or in a new location. The number of jobs the hub will create is also unclear at this stage.

But Lord Hall said: “Design and engineering are creating a new tech hub in Newcastle upon Tyne - a city looking for fresh ideas, collaboration and innovation, with two highly successful universities and a digital cluster growing faster than any area outside London.

“That’s why we know it’s the right choice to help us to deliver a new generation of software engineers; designers; product developers and data scientists in the North East of England.”

Speaking from Cardiff, Lord Hall said that he wanted to have at least two-thirds of the BBC’s activities outside London by the time of its next charter renewal in 2027.

As well as the plans for Newcastle, he said the BBC would increase the work done at its base in Salford’s Media City and also expand BBC Studios in Bristol.

Lord Hall also highlighted the BBC’s global role and said that all of the recent British winners at the Golden Globes had worked with the BBC at some point in their career.

His speech comes at a time when the BBC is under increasing attack from some politicians after a bruising election campaign, and over its plans to drop free TV licences for over 75s.

The move towards more regional centres comes as Channel 4 is working on a second base in Leeds, plus bases in Bristol and Glasgow. A bid for Newcastle-Gateshead to be considered by Channel 4 was unsuccessful.

Lord Hall said: “This is the beginning of what I think should be a renewed push - getting the BBC up to at least two thirds around the country [if not more] by the time our charter comes to an end in 2027.

“I know all the risks. It will take time. It would cost money. It could be hugely disruptive. But it is an enormous creative opportunity; for audiences, for talent, for the UK.

“It’ll make us more relevant; more in touch with audiences; more alive to creative opportunities. That’s a really exciting prospect.”

Lord Hall added that the BBC’s news output would focus on analysis of some of the big issues facing society and that it would also be investing in its iPlayer and Sounds services.

But - a week after BBC presenter Samira Ahmed won a high-profile equal pay tribunal against the corporation - he also admitted that “we haven’t always got it right” and said the BBC had to think about its internal culture.

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes welcomed the BBC announcement, saying: “We have a skilled and talented workforce, are investing in world class technological developments and have strong connectivity at the heart of everything we do.

“I warmly welcome Lord Hall’s announcement and the job opportunities and investment this will bring to our great city.”

Charlie Hoult, chair of the North East tech sector group Dynamo, said: “Obviously we were thrilled to hear of Tony Hall’s plans for the BBC to create a tech hub in Newcastle, and we’re on hand with the Dynamo network.

“We’ve championed the region for seven years with government and public services - so it’s great that this investment can work alongside the new National Innovation Centre for Data, UTC, and FE success.

“The message is clear - our region’s future is as a digital hotspot and we are already accelerating on that journey with 42,000 workers in tech and a pool of skilled people who can support BBC aspirations from day one.”

 

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