The North East has presented a united front after a national newspaper suggested the region could become the UK’s Detroit.
Across the North East people have reacted angrily to an article in the Guardian newspaper in which the region was described as being “on the brink”.
It comes as The Journal prepares to relaunch our popular 100 Reasons Why It’s Great Up North list, celebrating the economic and cultural highlights enjoyed by some 2.5 million people.
The Guardian, which has its roots in the North, looked at how the region is coping with massive Government spending cuts, asking what comes as the “shiny new galleries and economic swagger recedes.”
While the article highlighted many of the challenges present in the North East, not least its high unemployment, there was concern that the region’s successes had been overlooked.
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Critics say the article painted a revived North East economy as “largely superficial”, with the Guardian pointing as evidence of this to continued derelict land in Teesside and a Tyne Quayside which it says was now “slightly less uplifting”.
Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, interviewed for the piece, said she was disappointed with the paper’s take on the region.
She said: “I was interviewed by the Guardian back in November on the region’s economic and social challenges and also the region’s strengths and basis for the region’s success in the future.
“As you can imagine I talked at length about the last two. In the intervening months somebody somewhere clearly decided only to cover the first topic creating a patronising and inaccurate reflection on the region.
“As we saw at the recent Dynamo conference in Newcastle the North East has great strengths to make it a centre for some of the most important industries of the future. We have great culture, skills, universities, people, passion. It’s a pity the Guardian reported on none of that.”
The article prompted a furious response online.
PR consultant Sarah Hall set up a petition calling on the paper to return to the region to write a “more balanced piece”. Ms Hall said: “As someone who lives and works in the North East and a PR consultant advising many of the organisations based here, I have a keen interest in how the region is reported.
“When I spotted the article that compared the North East to Detroit, I assumed the title was just link bait and that it would be a balanced piece. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case.
“Having evidently decided to build the story around us being a ‘problem region’, it did just that, taking very little of the positive work ongoing here into account.
“People in the region are sick and tired of this beautiful area - which offers excellent quality of life - being badged as the grim North.”
Newcastle Council leader Nick Forbes is set to discuss the matter with the Guardian’s northern editor. He said: “No one is denying that the North East has challenges, and some of these are being exacerbated by the aggressive austerity cuts being imposed by the Government.
“But we also have world class universities, a nationally significant cluster of offshore and marine engineering, a burgeoning digital and ICT industry and a manufacturing base to be proud of.
“We also have an enviable quality of life, strong cohesive communities and a fierce sense of pride in our region. We should have confidence that our better days are ahead of us, not behind us.”
Graham Robb, regional chairman of the Institute of Directors, agreed the region had been unfairly treated.
He said: “Comparing the North East with Detroit is an irresponsible and foolish thing to do.
“Irresponsible because it’s the kind of tag that lazy investors might see and believe, foolish because it is nowhere near true. Detroit has economic and social problems that are off the scale when compared to the North East. It’s the people in business, like my members, that are working so hard to ensure his ridiculous apocalyptic theory is wide of the mark.
“The Guardian violates our region by presenting an inaccurate and ill-considered impression to a global readership. When the Entrepreneurs’ Forum meets for its annual conference this week, the business owners attending will ignore it and get on with the real work in changing our region for the better.”