Guardian journalist Andy Beckett caused a furore with a rather one-sided article not in the best traditions of high-quality journalism that one expects from the Guardian.
It is not that as residents of the North East we do not know the fundamental matters affecting us, nor that we are afraid to read about them, but more the style and character of the reporting.
The reaction was instant with more than 1,000 comments on the Guardian website, most suggesting the newspaper hang its head in shame. One insight I agree with is that if we allow national newspapers to get away this it will put off inward investors and hurt the region
That said, there is no room for complacency. Those of us living in the region and involved in business are very much aware of the statistics, the challenges faced by the economy and the social impact.
There is an acceptance of what needs to be done and, in fairness, over the past two decades much progress has been made. Notwithstanding the depth of the economic recession and the structural economic shift we have suffered since the late 1950s, we believe advances are being made.
Some of these were pointed out and published in the mass of correspondence that followed the article. But two not reported stand out for me.
The Office of National Statistics labour market release shows how the region is closing the gap between local growth figures and national ones and creating more and better jobs.
Employment in the North East region reached a historical record of 1.2 million in employment in the quarter ending in February 2014. The quarterly figures January to March 2014 showed employment had increased by 40,000 compared to the January to March 2013 (and 30,000 compared to the quarter ending in December 13). This is equivalent to almost seven times the direct employment at Nissan.
The regional unemployment rate remained around its 2013 average at 10.1%, a 0.1% increase compared to October to December 2013. However, this was largely driven by an increase in economic activity – 35,000 more people became economically active (looking for jobs) compared to the previous quarter. Of those, 30,000 ended up in employment. This means that the increase in unemployment is not coming at the expense of employment, ultimately the driver of economic growth, but being driven by the increase in economic activity our region so much needs.
Another report shows we have the best productivity record compared to regions outside London. Another shows that, outside London, the region is the only net contributor from exports to the national economy.
There are, however, lessons we can learn from Beckett’s comments. As a region we are too self-effacing and do not speak loudly enough about our successes. We also lack the marketing strength of other regions. If one thing good could come out of the Guardian article, it is that through the recently-formed combined authority we develop a robust and cohesive marketing campaign to attract more inward investors and boost the pace of job creation.
Kevan Carrick is a partner at JK Property Consultants LLP, policy spokesman for RICS North East, member of RICS Dispute Resolution Panel and chairman of Northern Dispute Resolution