Does the East have a branding problem?

Early morning on the beach with the Scallop.....

The North has built a brand and can mobilise it to get government cash, but what about the East? - Credit: JP Appleton

Any time you venture on to a motorway you’re bound to see a sign for the North emblazoned upon an overhead gantry.  

While there are arguments to be had around where the North starts — is it, for instance, everything above Watford Gap services? — no-one denies that it does start.  

Sometimes, though, it feels like the East doesn’t really have a start. So much so that, according to Wikipedia, Norfolk and Suffolk are sometimes counted among the Home Counties.  

For too long, we have been treated as an extension of ‘the London bubble’.  

Perhaps this is down to the fact the country is, like it or not, dominated by the capital to an unusual extent.  

In the United States, financial and cultural power sits in New York, while the government sits in Washington DC.  

In Germany, for finance you go to Frankfurt, while if you want government and culture you need to be in Berlin.  

Most Read

But in the UK, London dominates on all three counts. And people in the London bubble largely see The East as a place where second homes are cheaper than Cornwall. 

Aldeburgh and Cromer may be the only places that holidaymakers see, but there is so much they're missing out on. 

We also have tight-knit communities and innovative businesses under our wide unbroken horizons. 

A train from Liverpool Street to Ipswich takes just over an hour but it may as well take you back in time.   

There is not a single mile of motorway in Norfolk or Suffolk. Throughout much of the region, broadband connection and even mobile phone signal is patchy at best. 

While this could be spun as quaint and one of the reasons behind our, sometimes vaunted, slower pace of life, without more investment we will continue to lag further and further behind. 

Could this lack of investment be because we have a branding problem?   

Just what is the East? Is it East Anglia? Is it Suffolk and Norfolk? Or do we pull in some of Cambridgeshire and a bit of Essex too?  

Having a brand lets you come up with a catchy slogan for when you bang your fist on the government’s door asking for money.   

The Midlands Engine. The Northern Powerhouse. Neither phrase means much but they have managed to pull in a lot of investment.  

Where was the Eastern voice when HS2 was being thought up?  

Where are the glitzy drawings of our new infrastructure projects?  

Better yet, where are the millions and millions of pounds to fund it all?  

One way to grab some of that money could be through devolution. Long a Tory pet project, granting more power to a local combined authority lets a region decide for itself what its priorities are and opens up different pots of cash.  

It is not without its problems, however.  

For instance, Dan Jarvis was elected mayor of the Sheffield City Region in 2018. But for two years he was hamstrung without access to pots of cash other Metro mayors could dip into due to various council's indecision over whether they wanted to be in, or out, of the deal.  

While the East does not have one dominant city, it does have enough to justify a mayor of some kind.  

The Sheffield City Region is home to around 1.8million people, roughly comparable to the number who live in Norfolk and Suffolk combined.  

Up in Sheffield there are now plans to rename the region the South Yorkshire Combined Authority to better reflect the geography of the area. So, it can be done without a city at its heart.  

Yes, the East is somewhere with lovely beaches and cheaper holiday homes than Cornwall. But it is much, much, more than that and it’s time we were treated as such.  

At other points, it has been right to focus on other parts of the country — reinvigorating de-industrialised areas of the North, for instance.  

But now, in the economic desolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is time for the East to get its fair share of the pie. 

That is why this newspaper has launched the Fightback East campaign to help our economy recover and bring the region out of the shadows and into the spotlight where it belongs.