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Industry bodies, independent producers and MPs of all stripes have rounded on the government’s decision to go ahead with privatising Channel 4 after 40 years in public ownership as “cultural vandalism”.

The government hopes to raise £1bn from selling off the broadcaster – the biggest privatisation since Royal Mail in 2013 – but the decision has left the industry incredulous as it attempts to make sense of the move, following more than 60,000 responses to the public consultation over C4's future.

C4 chief executive Alex Mahon wrote to staff of the “distracting and disruptive plans”, which could take at least 18 months to enact.

“During that time, we’ll continue to work with DCMS and government, and with our supporters across the industry to make the arguments to ensure that Channel 4 can continue to deliver its remit,” she said.

C4 presented a vision “rooted in continued ownership” to the consultation, which ended in September, at odds with the government’s decision.

In a statement, the broadcaster said its proposal was “a real alternative to privatisation that would safeguard its future financial stability, allowing it to do significantly more for the British public, the creative industries and the economy, particularly outside London.”

C4 added: “This is particularly important given that the organisation is only two years into a significant commitment to drive up its impact in the UK’s Nations and Regions.”

Government position

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries said government ownership is “holding Channel 4 back” from competing against global players like Netflix and Amazon.

Dorries tweeted: “A change of ownership will give Channel 4 the tools and freedom to flourish and thrive as a public service broadcaster long into the future. I will set out the future plan for Channel 4 in a White Paper in due course

“I will seek to reinvest the proceeds of the sale into levelling up the creative sector, putting money into independent production and creative skills in priority parts of the country - delivering a creative dividend for all.”

Her Labour counterpart, shadow culture sectetary Lucy Powell, said the decision was a distraction motivated by “ideological reasons”.

“Nothing screams a rudderless government like announcements on Channel 4 while people’s energy bills are through the roof,” she said.

“Selling off Channel 4, which doesn’t cost the tax-payer a penny anyway, to what is likely to be a foreign company, is cultural vandalism. It will cost jobs and opportunities in the North and Yorkshire, and hit the wider British creative economy. This shows that the Conservatives have run out of ideas and run out of road.”

Tory MP Damian Green, one of six Tory MPs who signed a letter in February opposing a sell-off, said the move was “very unconservative”.

He tweeted: “The sale of Channel 4 is politicians and civil servants thinking they know more about how to run a business than the people who run it.”

Echoing Powell’s “cultural vandalism” jibe, Bectu chief executive Philippa Childs highlighted C4’s support for TV jobs and the independent production sector, at no cost to the taxpayer. “This short-sighted destructive move deals a major blow to the UK’s creative sector,” she said.

Pact chief John McVay cautioned: “A private owner could shift production away from independent producers to cut costs, with a knock-on impact on the wider industry.

“Selling it off now risks reducing the opportunities for independent producers, and reducing the amount of programming commissioned outside London - levelling down, not levelling up. It isn’t too late for the Government to think again.”

The move follows C4's haul of 13 RTS Awards for shows such as comedy We Are Lady Parts, dramas It's a Sin and Help and doc Rape: Who's On Trial?.

It also secured 44 Bafta TV nominations.

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