Creative in the UK regions


 By Cat Lewis,

Chief Executive Nine Lives Media & Vice Chair, Pact


I’ve always believed it’s a privilege to be paid to be creative and I have to confess that I love my job so much, I’d happily do it for next to nothing.  But equally - it’s really exciting that the creative industries here in the UK are making money!  From my perspective – the more money we make – the more jobs we can create. 

The creative industries are currently growing faster than any other part of the UK’s economy and it’s important for us to shout about this, because we’re still seen as difficult to invest in – rather hit and miss.  We’re also a sector that is often ignored by governments, and not taken as seriously as finance or car manufacturing.  This is one reason it’s very important for us to work together to ensure we punch with the full weight and success of all our different specialities.

Here in Manchester and Salford – creativity has long been a fundamental part of our DNA.  The amazing music, theatre, dance, films and TV created here is what attracted many of us and the arts continue to inspire – look at the fantastic original work showcased in the Manchester International Festival. 

Right now the independent TV production company Red, which is run in MediaCity by Nicola Schindler, is making three of the most successful drama series in the country – Happy Valley; Last Tango in Halifax and Scott & Bailey.  All three are written by the incredible Sally Wainwright.

I set up my own factual TV production company exactly seven years ago today and without any investment, I’ve created 28 continual jobs and many more indirect, temporary ones. 

Please forgive me for focusing on TV but it’s the industry I know and I’m passionate about it.  I love making great television outside London, because I firmly believe TV can unify the country and give us all a sense of national identity.  To do that successfully, diverse workforces are essential and programmes need to be made all around the UK. 

Next year marks the 60th anniversary of the creation of ITV with its network of regional companies such as Tyne Tees, Yorkshire and Granada.  When I look back, I think – wow – wasn’t that government forward thinking? 

They could easily have chosen to simply give the franchise for the UK’s first commercial TV channel to a big London based corporation, but instead they used the opportunity to create television companies all around the UK which meant that up until the last 15 years, you had a chance of working in TV wherever you lived in the country.  That ensured a real creative meritocracy, with amazing people getting jobs in TV despite their backgrounds.  One of my friends worked alongside Simon Cowell to create The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, despite having started her adult life as a teenage mum from Huddersfield.  She only got a job in TV because of Granada’s large base up here.  Hopefully Jeremy Hunt’s new network of local TV stations may help – but the budgets are so tiny that for programme makers, the leap up to making network TV will be huge. 

The BBC has recognised the importance of both employing programme makers from all over the UK and engaging with audiences throughout the country, by committing to make 50% of all its programmes outside London by 2015.  Three years after MediaCity first opened in Salford, it’s considered to be a great success.  Moving BBC Breakfast to the city has resulted in northern experts and academics being regularly interviewed on a national news programme for the first time.  That kind of representation is really important to our sense of unity as a country.  I believe that if Scotland and its people had been more regularly reflected on national TV, they would be less likely to be considering independence.  I spent my school days in Stockton-on-Tees in the North East, an area generally ignored by the national media.  When your hometown is never acknowledged, it’s much harder to feel part of the country.  Equally – if you rarely see people like yourself on TV – how can you feel British?

All this has been known and acknowledged for very many years – but recent research has shown diversity on screen and in jobs behind the camera has fallen in TV.  In the last 15 years many of the regional ITV centres have closed, the jobs have moved to London and as a result - it’s become an upper middle class profession.  So what’s being done about it?  Not enough so far – the bulk of public money to support creative businesses is being spent in London.  

Arts funding

The BBC recognised 10 years ago that they could no longer justify spending 90p out of every pound of licence payers money in London and neither can those in charge of other pots of public money.  I know this is something Creative Skillset take very seriously. 

The economic recovery of this country will not come about by more jobs being created in London.  London’s economy is overheated.  You now have to earn at least £55,0000 to stand a chance of getting on the housing ladder; there are too few school places; it’s hard to get a GP and childcare costs a fortune.  Whoever comes into government next time – even if it’s Boris Johnson – needs to do far more to ensure new jobs are created outside London. 

It’s not just about making sure public money is more fairly distributed; crucial help for the creative industries can also be given through clever regulation.

The 2003 Communications Act was a key piece of legislation without which I couldn’t run my business.  Through the Terms of Trade enshrined in the Act, independent production companies like mine were given the ownership of their IP.  So my company owns the TV programmes we devise and produce, which means we can sell them all over the world.  If we get a factual format commissioned like Undercover Boss or Goggle Box, we can also sell that format to other broadcasters around the world.  One of the most successful-ever is Come Dine with Me, which was devised by one of my best friends Nell Butler who honed her dinner party skills here in Manchester – sadly quite a few years before I set up Nine Lives!  Come Dine with Me is now made in 36 different territories around the world and Britain has become the second biggest exporter of TV formats after America.  Since the Terms of Trade were introduced in the 2003 Communications Act, the value of the UK’s independent sector has tripled, and is now worth 2.8 billion pounds. 

Recent tax breaks for film, TV drama and animation have also given a huge boost to our industry and at Pact, we’re now campaigning for them to be expanded to Children’s TV.  

Pact has been working hard with broadcasters to allow Digital companies to retain their IP – Channel 4 has agreed already and hopefully a deal will soon be done with the BBC. 

I believe that by working together – the creative industries can learn from each other and be a far stronger force for positive change.

I fully support the work of the creative industries Council in producing its ‘Create UK’ report, which outlines how our sector can become even more successful in the future.  The IPPR’s report – ‘March of the Modern Makers’ – is also very useful – and I certainly hope whichever UK government wins the next election, takes the time to read and digest them both.


This is a text of a speech by Cat Lewis, chief executive of Nine Lives Media and vice chair of Pact, the body for independent UK TV and film producers, given at the Creative Manchester event on September, 3, 2014. You can watch a video interview with Cat Lewis here and a film about the Creative Manchester event here.