THE news came in from the House of Commons just after 5pm yesterday.
First there was confirmation that a government decision on the BBC’s next licence fee settlement had been delayed until the New Year.
No surprise there. But what happened next caught just about everyone out.
Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell – speaking in a debate about the digital TV switchover – unexpectedly turned her attention to the BBC’s move to Salford.
In what may turn out to be the decisive moment for the future of the £400m project, she appeared to back the BBC into a corner.
“I know that many Honourable Members have taken a keen interest in the BBC’s proposed move to the north west of England,” she began.
“I can say this afternoon that it is my expectation that the BBC will make that move.”
She added: “The government will ensure that the structure of the licence fee settlement makes it clear that the move to the north west should happen.
“More details will be given as part of the announcement on the level of the licence fee that I will make in the New Year.”
So what does that mean? Is the government going to ring-fence the cash for Salford, increase the BBC’s borrowing limits or something else?
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport had nothing to add to Ms Jowell’s words and both the BBC and Salford’s MediaCity: UK constortium were taken by surprise.
The BBC wants to go ahead with the £400m move to Salford. But it also has other plans and a limited amount of cash.
Now it looks like Tessa Jowell has, in effect, taken the Salford decision for them.
Or is there to be one final twist in the tale?
BBC North West Move “Should Happen”