INDEPENDENT TV production companies in Scotland have accused Ofcom of recommending an “England-centric” quota for Channel 4.

More than 30 companies have joined forces to urge Ofcom to reconsider its recommendation that Channel 4 retain its current quota of 9% of production costs being spent on projects made outside of England. 

As part of Channel 4’s 10-year licence renewal process with Ofcom, the media watchdog published a consultation on the deal.

Currently, the channel has a quota of 35% of annual production costs being spent on projects made outside of London while it sits at 9% for projects made outside of England.

However, Scottish companies say that the quota has a serious impact on hundreds of freelance roles based outside of England.

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They want Channel 4 to increase the quota for countries outside of England to at least 16%, bringing it in line with the quota accepted by the BBC since 2009.

A joint statement from the group read: “As a publicly owned public service broadcaster with a stated ‘strong commitment to represent the whole of the UK’ and ‘to stand up for diversity across the UK’, Channel 4 must fulfil its remit for the benefit of the UK as a whole and support the sustainable growth of the industry outside of London.

“As long-term trusted suppliers to the channel, the group strongly rejects Channel 4’s claim that that ‘the UK production sector continues to be significantly smaller outside London … with fewer production companies, often smaller in scale, and therefore with less capacity to develop creative ideas and produce them, in comparison with London.

They continued: “As a group, we work internationally, as well as across the UK, producing content of scale for the BBC, ITV, C5, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Discovery, Disney+, Nat Geo, and Netflix among many others. Our strong track record is clear evidence of the extensive skills and experience within the Scottish production and post-production sector.

The National: Channel 4

“The BBC accepted production targets that mirror the UK’s population in 2009 and have worked with the indie community to significantly increase their supply base in Scotland, enabling us to create hundreds of high value jobs, as well as programmes that reflect Scotland, its people and their priorities.

“Focusing the large majority of Channel 4 programme spend on one small part of the UK’s thriving creative economy would be at the expense of the creative companies and freelancers in all four home nations, and would impact audiences who look to the public service broadcasters (PSBs) for authentic portrayal of their lives, concerns, ambitions and cultures.

“We are concerned that Ofcom appears to have accepted C4’s arguments that favour a London-centric production sector.”

The group added: “The UK based PSBs – specifically the BBC and Channel 4 - are the bedrock of our national creative economy and have long been valued partners in growth with indies in Scotland. Channel 4 has an obligation to support their continued growth.

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“From a strategic point of view, if the channel is moving towards ‘fewer, bigger, better’, yet has a lack of faith in indies outside of the M25 being able to supply such content, they risk a return to the London-based commissioning of the past. In an already volatile and uncertain market, the future of the independent sector in Scotland would be significantly impacted with the loss of hundreds of freelance jobs.

“If they really are committed to a channel ‘4 all the UK’, we believe Channel 4 must invest in all of the UK.

“As such, we would strongly urge Ofcom to enshrine production that would reflect the nation’s share of the UK population as part of Channel 4’s 10-year licence; alongside a commitment to commissioning higher value scripted and factual programmes across genres from each UK nation.”

A spokesperson for Channel 4 said that it did not have a quota for individual nations and that it had voluntarily increased its spend on productions outside of London to more than 50% in 2022. 

“Channel 4 is fully committed to driving growth and investment in the nations and regions and has made demonstrable progress over recent years," they said. 

"Whilst we of course look to ensure that our commissioning spend benefits all three devolved nations, no commercial broadcaster, including Channel 4, has nominal or voluntary quota for the individual nations.

“We are fully committed to the nations and regions – our 4 All The UK strategy has introduced regional hubs, creating more than 500 roles out of London with a commitment to reach 600 by 2025; we have voluntarily increased our nations and regions commissioning quota from 35% to 50%; we have worked with screen agencies across the UK to introduce bespoke commissioning development initiatives; we have invested millions in the nations and regions through our 4Skills programme delivering 57,000 training, learning and development opportunities in 2023.

"These interventions have seen Channel 4’s out of London commissioning spend steadily increase over the licence period to a record £228m in 2022.”

A spokesperson for Ofcom said: "We will carefully consider all responses to our consultation before publishing our final decision this summer."