MANDELSON AT MEDIACITYUK
"There are already thousands of jobs being created for Salford people…"
And there they were, all in a huge glass walled piazza-level room at the half built MediaCityUK on the Quays…
Hazel Blears, Salford MP. Councillor John Merry, Leader of Salford City Council. Bryan Gray, ex chairman of North West Regional Development Agency (NWDA), and now chairman of Peel Media. Robert Hough, ex deputy chairman of Peel Holdings, now chairman of NWDA. Robert Whittaker, multi-millionaire owner of Peel Holdings. And Lord Peter Mandelson, Government Business Secretary and media styled Prince of Darkness.
…And in a beautiful piece of symbolism, there was the Salford Star on the freezing outside, noses pressed to the glass, looking in. After waiting around for an hour and a half we got less than five minutes with Peter Mandelson, which we print word for word below.
We wanted some answers on the accusations we've been throwing at the MediaCityUK scheme from day one of its inception. While the Salford Star is not against
the concept of MediaCityUK, and welcome its potential to bring jobs to the city, as a community magazine we aim to represent the views of Salford people who are still cynical after the jobs and accessibility promised when The Lowry was built never happened.
Already, in the last printed issue of Salford Star, we proved that the idea of 15,000 jobs being created at MediaCityUK was utter rubbish. What we did prove from official figures is that if every square inch of MediaCityUK was filled by businesses there would be 3250 new jobs "at a local Salford level". The BBC is only a small portion of the total MediaCityUK site, and at present they and the University of Salford are the only major tenants to have signed up. The rest of the site is almost deserted. Even 3250 new jobs is looking ridiculously optimistic in the short term.
So the first question to Peter Mandelson was…What do you think Salford people's perception of MediaCityUK is?
Mandelson: "I think they see a huge opportunity here because it's giving the whole of Salford a new lease of life with what's being built here, sourced here, the skills that are being invested here, the jobs that are going to be created…"
How many jobs do you think will be created here for Salford people?
Mandelson: "There are already thousands of jobs being created for Salford people and that will grow. One thing I'm particularly impressed with here is both the workforce coming from the local area and the manufactured plant being sourced from the travel to work area. I think that's been an important priority from the development and I congratulate them for it."
The second question was about the amount of public money that is being invested into the project. Peel Holdings, the richest company in the North West, has invested £500million into the first phase of MediaCityUK. We estimate that over £500million will also be sunk into the project from tax payers, with the vast majority of this (over £450million) going directly to Peel in rent for the studios, buildings and equipment which the company owns. Any profits go to Peel with nothing coming back to the tax payer. It's a deal on which Peel cannot lose, only gain, for very little risk.
We asked whether Mandelson actually knew how much public money has been put into the scheme?
Mandelson: "A lot of public money but even more private money and that's exactly the key we're looking for. The Government and the regional development agency have got to help make things happen so that at the early stage of risk we're prepared to take the risk. Where feed investment is needed we're prepared to provide the seed, where the planning obstacles have got to be overcome the Government and local authorities have got to do that as well. At the end of the day it's private investment and enterprise and initiative that's going to pull this off but it has to be done in partnership between the public sector and private enterprise."
Do you know that the public sector has paid 50% of the first stage?
Mandelson: "I'm absolutely delighted that the Government and local authorities and the regional development agency have been prepared to put their money where their mouth is…"
"Hold on a moment… We want regeneration we want new business opportunities we want new jobs created, we want people to feel a real sense of confidence and ambition and if it's public sector that's invested in it it's worth every penny."
Questions have been asked and fingers have been pointing to the links between the `regional development agency' (NWDA) and Peel Holdings. That Bryan Gray, a former chair of NWDA, now works for Peel Media which is building MediaCityUK, and Robert Hough, former deputy chair of Peel Holdings, who still holds a directorship, is now the chair of NWDA. The NWDA is currently throwing public money at the Peel owned MediaCityUK, some would argue, to the detriment of investment in other parts of Salford that need it more.
So we asked whether Peter Mandelson was aware of the links between NWDA and Peel Holdings?
Mandelson: "Yes, and I hope they continue to work very closely together. The essential thing about the regional development agency is that it's business led – I set up the RDAs in 1998 when I was Secretary of State at DTI and one thing I insisted on…insisted on…was that the whole development agency, whilst drawing from different parts of the public sector, is business led - because it's private enterprise, investment in capital and people that we want to bring into regeneration and recreating opportunities for people in areas like this, to bring about the sort of transformation we're seeing here. I'm absolutely delighted that that partnership is working so well here."
Did he think that the private company involved has the same agenda as the Government and the regenerators?
Mandelson: "Of course. But what's unique about this whole area is everyone pulling in the same direction – Government, regional development agency, local authorities, private enterprise, business firms that are backing this – everyone pulling in the same direction…you couldn't pull it off unless everyone was working together in the same direction."
Then why are Salford people are so cynical about it?
Mandelson: "I don't believe that Salford people are cynical about it…I've been in this area quite a lot over the years…"
So have I…
"…a lot because I have family up here and they see it as a thrilling opportunity – they see people taking them seriously, taking their future seriously and investing in it, and that's why people see the transformation here as an investment in them and their future. And I'm very glad that, not only the regional development agency, but the local authorities and the local members of Parliament, and in particular Hazel here in Salford, have put their shoulders to the reel and really helped to get this off the ground. They are to be congratulated and I hope that the sort of unity between the vision on the one hand, what government investment can do on the other, drawing in private enterprise…"
But there isn't any…
Mandelson: "and investment…will continue to transform not just Salford and Greater Manchester but the whole of the North West …"
But there's no private companies here, apart from the University and BBC…
Press officer intervenes… "I'm sorry time's up…"
So that was it, and Mandelson's people drove him away to his next appointment at John Wilkinson's factory in Weaste (Wilkinson gift to Hazel Blears for her ill fated Deputy Leadership campaign: £5000)…
Obviously Peter Mandelson was never going to slag off Peel Holdings or the NWDA or the links between them, or the amount of public money MediaCityUK is sucking up. But we did expect a bit longer with him, given we were the only press that turned up for this appointment. We did expect a bit more warmth towards the real concerns of Salford's community. And we did expect a bit more humility and humanity, particularly with an election around the corner.
But when you ask him a question in the middle of his monologue, Mandelson just fixes you with his cold brown eyes and carries on talking. He remains the Prince of Darkness…
Perhaps Gordon Brown would like to have a chat about Media City?