What does a minister for the south west really do?

June 18, 2009

I interviewed Jim Knight, the new minister for the south west. Basically, he seemed to have very little power of influence. He was ostensibly here to promote the government’s new Digital Britain report, and was at the Watershed talking to Dick Penny about new creative and digital projects.

Jim Knight

Jim Knight

Understandably, he was keen to stress that there are new opportunities in digital media (which chimed with his message about the Digital Britain report). But he wasn’t really able to make any concrete statements on specific issues.

As you can hear in the audio below, he says he doesn’t have any influence over the BBC’s decision to rob Peter to pay Paul by moving Casualty to Cardiff. Nor is there anything he can do to reinstate regional ITV news, though he does say he lobbied hard to get the regional opt-out in the pan-South Western programme. He also says he won’t get involved in the planning decision to turn Ashton Gate into Tesco.

It did make me wonder what he really can do as minister for the SW.

My article for Original:

Jim Knight, the new minister for the South West, says Bristol’s media industry must “move on” from the loss of BBC show Casualty and embrace new opportunities.

However, on a visit to the city on Thursday, he pledged that the government would get the whole of the region into the digital fast lane.

His job is to represent Bristol in cabinet and in the government, but he says there is little he can do to influence the BBC’s decision to move the show to Cardiff .

Knight says he understands the affection Bristol has for Casualty, but is unable to pledge either to persuade the BBC to reverse its decision or to replace it with other shows.

He said: “”It’s a shame the show is going, and I understand the reaction it has had in Bristol, but there are other opportunities coming along. It is a decision the BBC need to make for themselves, and they will do that for their own reasons.

“I have some contact with Mark Thomson and the BBC and will talk the issues through with him. But we have to be able to move on and embrace these new converging technologies that are taking us forward into exciting new territory.”

He added that he would do what he could to bring new money to Bristol. He said: “We have proposals in the Digital Britain report to secure an element of the licence fee for regional news and children’s programming. If there are opportunities to bring those to the region I shall be chasing after them.”

He also pledged to do more to bring areas of the city suffering from slow internet speeds into the fast lane.

The plight of web users in Bradley Stoke has recently made national headlines. Many households there are unable to get high speed broadband access because it is located too far from the local telephone exchanges at Almondsbury and Filton.

Jim Knight claims the government’s new Digital Britain strategy – increased roll-out of broadband funded by a 50p tax on fixed phone lines – is the way to get the area connected.

He said: “We need to absolutely get universal access up to a certain level of broadband, but we need to get Bradley Stoke up to a connection speed of 2MBps which is what the report says. That would be a real step forward for the area and the report sets out a way to do that.”


One comment

  1. Another Under-Secretary of State for Paperclip Rearranging. I met another recently: I believe he was Deputy Digital Inclusion Minister. These really are useless appointments designed to appeal to the vanity of the clowns in the Palace of Varieties (sorry, Westminster).

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