The North East’s lousy weekend started on the BBC’s Graham Norton show on Friday night. Norton pictorially compared Las Vegas with Newcastle.
He then compared gambling establishments – the second picture was Newcastle’s answer to The Bellagio.
And finally he compared the Las Vegas scantily clad, glamorous show girl with the third picture from the BBC vaults.
The following morning, however, the weekend got a lot worse. This was when the Guardian published its colour supplement piece asking whether the North East was comparable to the bankrupt city of Detroit. This created a storm which lasted throughout the weekend and persists.
It is persistent and probably worsening.
People are angry. They are responding with photos which balance those Norton showed and statistics – lots of numbers.
The first (on the right) says something simple – if you want great State education, head for the North East.
It is generally regarded as a signifier of economic health. In the US churn tends to follow change in GDP with an eight-quarter lag. As the chart shows, the North East has the third highest churn rate in the UK – just behind the North West and with London way ahead of everywhere else.
Thoughts about comparison
These charts, Graham Norton’s TV show and The Guardian article do have one thing in common. They show a comparative picture of the North East. On the Beeb we saw pictures of Las Vegas and Newcastle; in the Guardian we see a comparison with Detroit and elsewhere and so on.
Here’s the interesting thing about comparison – when we don’t see it, we’re suspicious. Subconsciously suspicious.
Take a much repeated statement like “more than 25,000 workers employed in tech industry in the North East”. Actually, it’s 27,000 but … as a regional proportion of all workers this is the second lowest (after Wales).
Even if those outside the North East don’t know the comparison, my sense is that throwing numbers around does not help because people are suspicious of them. Absolute numbers may even hinder rather than help.
It’s true, there is ignorance of the North East
Recently, Newcastle Gateshead Initiative commissioned some interesting research. Respondents from business said that they do not consistently associate Newcastle / Gateshead with a particular business or industry sector. “However, where associations are made, manufacturing is the most strongly associated sector, and tourism & leisure and marine/offshore/subsea are also thought to be important”.
Or in summary, the report says “audiences, including local residents, struggled to identify a prime business or industry which they associate with Newcastle / Gateshead today. More often, the area is still defined by what people used to do here, engendering a source of pride and nostalgia, but indicating a void in current knowledge”.
It’s not particularly relevant that the research concentrated on Newcastle / Gateshead because the same research showed that respondents make little distinction between all places in the region. Therefore, these findings display just what it is about the region that people are ignorant of – its economic complexion and identity
The North East can address that ignorance – but it can’t anecdotally. Data must be deployed judiciously and appropriately; it must be available to those in a position to influence and it must be used accurately to identify the issues faced in the region. A problem inaccurately defined is a problem that will persist.
The Graham Norton phenomenon is different
The images of Newcastle shown to millions on BBC1 last Friday are representations of what others think about the people who live in the North East. Obese, poorly and depressingly housed, gambling away their benefits. (OK the benefits bit wasn’t there but I bet it’s not too far from the general perception).
I’m no expert but this is a Skoda problem. The North East has to do for itself, what Skoda did for its cars.
All the while remembering that when Skoda began to claim that its cars were now reliable – they WERE.
Photo by Gonmi