Graham's latest Journal Column


I have cause to be thankful to the wonderful Tyneside Cinema this week as it was the only venue that was showing the critically acclaimed Mr Turner. Since my wife passed away recently I have enjoyed trips to the cinema and have become much more of a movie aficionado than I used to be. The Mike Leigh film, starring Timothy Spall, was given universally good reviews and is already been talked up for awards success.

Why do I tell you about my weekend leisure pursuits? Well, the fact that such a wonderful film was not available to see at any Odeon or Cineworld cinema in the North East speaks volumes about the way this region is too often seen by a host of clueless marketeers who rely on outdated computer demographic data.  

In the case of the movie it is ironic that the people of Teesside can see an original Turner picture at a Council Art Gallery but not a new film about his life. Mr Turner’s actual paintings are still owned by some of our councils (including ‘Venice’ which is owned by Middlesbrough Council) and when these artists originally exhibited their shows in the North they had hundreds of thousands of visitors.

The cause of the myopic approach to the North East by decision makers is partly our own doing; until recently many of our politicians and commentators sought to accentuate the negative. Our unemployment rate rolled off their tongues but our growing numbers in employment was hardly mentioned. We have also neglected to highlight one key fact that I am grateful to the NE Local Enterprise Partnership for providing. I challenge more of our cultural and political ambassadors to repeat it again and again in public. Everybody in London, Brussels or elsewhere that makes a decision over the distribution of goods or services and money, needs to know it – it is our high disposable income. That’s right, it appears to be a completely counter-institutive thing to say, but people in work in the North East have more money available to spend than many other parts of the country!

Let’s examine the evidence. Last year the North East LEP took the latest data on average incomes and then put it alongside the cost of living data for different regions of the UK. This is of critical importance as income is only half the story, we need to examine the cost too; our house prices are lower, some transport costs are lower and in some cases goods in the shops can be cheaper. The result of the work was that the North East had the highest gross disposable income per head of any region except the South East or North West. The raw data used was from the Land Registry and the ONS.

In my own family I have seen it to be true. I have two daughters in good jobs who earn the same money; one lives in London, the other in Durham. My daughter in London finds life very expensive and has no hope of buying a home, while my daughter in Durham has bought a semi-detached house and is enjoying the rewards of her hard work.

The fact is that the region should be looked upon as a place full of opportunity for national chains and inward investors; far from staying away, there are customers with money who are willing to be wooed!

A new NE owner managed business sector is emerging and is more confident of its own potential; there were more start up loans given to NE firms last year than our share of the population would dictate. We really are taking matters into our own hands; a new kind of middle class is emerging. They are as happy going to see Mr Turner one night as they are to have a lads night out another night. Happy to dine at a fine restaurant, yet equally pleased to enjoy a pizza with friends.

Some decision makers – top niche retailers are an example - have understood the North East’s new potential. Around Grey’s Moment in Newcastle a clutch of designer stores have sprung up; Hugo Boss, Calvin Klein, Pretty Green, Michael Kors, to name just a few. I was proud to be part of this when my firm conducted all of the PR for the Newcastle Graingertown initiative 12 years ago. We are still reaping the rewards of that great project which Newcastle Council and Governments of both parties so strongly supported.

The ‘smart-Alec’ marketeers who decide which films we can see are not as smart as they think. Their computer algorithms that look at gross numbers and outdated class references are denying them the opportunity to reach a new audience with money to spend. They’ve missed the chance to make some returns. The North East is not a cultural Siberia. The packed houses at Tyneside Cinema, the availability of opera at Newcastle’s Theatre Royal and the determination of our home grown independent venues have ensured that.  Thanks to all the dedicated leaders of our North East arts scene; from now on I’ll make the journey to see my films at a home-grown venue!  

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