North East Focus: view from the top

Related tags North east 21st century Nightclub Public house

THINK OF the North and the pub trade and it's probably fair to say that for many people the image coming to mind would have a flat cap, a fag hanging...

THINK OF the North and the pub trade and it's probably fair to say that for many people the image coming to mind would have a flat cap, a fag hanging from the lips - and a long-suffering wife called Flo!

So does Andy Capp still give a true picture of our industry in the North East and Yorkshire in the 21st century? Well, no, but it's a fact that in many respects we are generally more 'traditional' - some would say old-fashioned - than many other regions. By that I mean the general pattern can be summed up as higher beer sales, lower food sales, lower property values… and more smokers.

Of course, things are changing - and the ban could certainly have a disproportionate impact in the North East - but being a little behind the latest trends can have benefits, not least the chance to see how things develop elsewhere then being prepared when the changes do start to come nearer to home.

But there have always been parts of the North which have acted as trailblazers, whether in the establishment of unique businesses like the Federation Brewery, the boom in the nightclub scene in the 60s and 70s or, right up to date, the development of Newcastle's Quayside, which recently earned the city the accolade from the Rough Guide as the best night out in Britain!

Without doubt there is now a polarisation between the 'sophistication' of our major city centres such as Newcastle and Leeds - together with the 'café society/gastropub' culture developing in places such as York and Harrogate - and the other end of the market dominated by the drinking (and smoking) pubs and clubs.

There is a similarly wide disparity in the drinks market. We see the big brands taking an ever-firmer grip at the expense of brands which previously had a strong regional hold, yet smaller brewers - Black Sheep, say, and the once again independent Theakston's - able to establish a strong 'niche' presence.

There is, too, a real contrast in governance between our region and certainly the South which, I believe, has a major impact on our industry. In the North East we have far more people who depend on the public sector for their livelihoods and that means the mindset of our local councils is one of control rather than enterprise.

While many authorities adopted a constructive, sensible approach to the new licensing regime, others used it as an opportunity to make life as difficult as possible - for example by demanding a village local should have wholly unrealistic security systems. What I fear is that when it comes to the enforcement of the smoking ban the industry in this region will find itself facing an army of officials determined to make that difficult too.

It reflects a real dichotomy in the way our industry is viewed in the North East. On one hand we see tourist organisations - including local councils - making enormous efforts to promote visitor attractions but at the same time as we see Newcastle gaining virtually worldwide attention for its vibrant nightlife we have the local chief constable publically saying that 'the party's over'.

Times might have changed but I believe the pubs, clubs and breweries of the North East form a vital part of our heritage, our culture - and can make an enormous contribution to our economy in the future… providing we're given the chance.

Alistair Arkley is executive chairman of New Century Inns

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