Award-winning firm moved to Newcastle after lack of support in Sunderland

underland Echo Portfolio Business Awards winner Ian Smith, of creative agency Surreal.
underland Echo Portfolio Business Awards winner Ian Smith, of creative agency Surreal.
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An award-winning former Wearside businessman has blamed lack of council support for his decision to move his business to Newcastle.

Sunderland Echo Portfolio Business Awards winner Ian Smith, of creative agency Surreal, said the council had failed to support the design sector in Sunderland, with even its own Make it Sunderland business promotion campaign awarded to an agency based in London.

Mr Smith, who was named Portfolio Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011, said: “When you realise your own City Council prefer Newcastle and London you start to question your own support for the city.”

He denied there was any element of sour grapes in the decision to move and said: “I can see some positive things now happening in Sunderland with local businesses driving these changes and I wish the city well in its bid for City of Culture.”

Sunderland campaign to promote local businesses was handled by London agency

But city council cabinet secretary Coun Mel Speding said Mr Smith had ruled his own business out of the running for council contracts.

“Along with every other major design company in Sunderland, Surreal were invited to submit a tender to become an accredited council supplier.

“They chose not to apply. This ruled them out of competing for other council contracts,” he said.

Surreal were based on Wearside for seven years but Ian Smith said his company has seen a fourfold increase in client visits to their offices in the first six months of moving to Newcastle and secured new local contracts worth over £100,000. The company was looking to build its customer base at home and decided that it would be best to join the creative cluster in Newcastle.

Mr Smith said the decision to move out of his hometown was not an easy one: “Being in Sunderland had started to hinder our development both locally and internationally.

“We had been based in Sunderland for seven years and our position as a business was stagnating even though we had completely repositioned the business from a design company working regionally to a brand strategy business working internationally with major Blue Chip clients.

“As we looked to develop a higher profile in the North East, even with our experience abroad, it was becoming increasingly hard to get across the doorsteps in the region.

“Newcastle is recognised as the regional creative hub and we thought we could buck that trend. We were wrong – and we needed to be part of that.

“We have had more client visits to our new base in Carliol Studios in Newcastle in six months than we had in two years in Sunderland and in that period from we have also managed to secure local contracts worth more than £100,000 that has in turn led to three new appointments to manage this growth.

“To me that’s proof a vibrant city centre works.”