Bleak prediction for Sunderland jobs, but civic leader hits back

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SUNDERLAND is in the top five UK cities most vulnerable to unemployment, a new report today claims.

It says Wearsiders are among the most likely to end up out of work this year with employment set to slump by 3.5 per cent by 2016.

Think-tank Centre for Cities ranked Sunderland fourth in the country in terms of cities that are “most likely to face real challenges” in 2012.

But leaders at the city council today dismissed the report claiming it bore “little or no recognition of how things are actually going on”.

In its Cities Outlook 2012 report, the policy institute said Sunderland has too few people with high skills, too high a proportion of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance and a large proportion of total jobs made up from the public sector.

Alexandra Jones, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: “Some cities have been hit particularly hard by recession and the gap between cities is widening. This makes it vital that government policy is tailored to meet the needs of each city rather than one-size-fits-all.”

The annual health-check report for Sunderland found the city suffered from a “weak urban core”, with the city centre providing less appeal to businesses.

Paul Swinney, an economist at the Centre for Cities, said this was potentially harmful to Wearside’s future development.

He said: “Having a city centre that supports such job creation will be important for the long term growth prospects of a city economy overall.”

Mr Swinney said Sunderland city centre was “running under-capacity” by having vast swathes of land such as the Vaux site lying empty instead of being used to create jobs and add to the city’s economic output.

He said such sites also caused “urban blight” which had a wider negative impact on neighbouring businesses and were likely to deter them from investing in the city.

The report said while Sunderland had successfully attracted companies to set up shop in the city, most chose out-of-town sites – robbing the city centre of new businesses.

He said: “In total, 105 businesses that were located outside of Sunderland in 1998 were located in the city in 2008. But out of these firms, just three chose to set up in the centre of the city.”

The Centre for Cities said Sunderland was set to fair considerably less well than its “Five to Watch”, Aberdeen, Cambridge, Edinburgh, London and Milton Keynes.

The think tank said these five cities all had strong private sectors, high numbers of skilled workers and large numbers of what it called “knowledge workers” – people who work in professions like accountancy, law and finance.

Just nine per cent of Sunderland’s workforce are “knowledge workers” compared to 30 per cent in Cambridge.

Councillor Peter Box, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Economy and Transport Board said: “It is vital that local council and business leaders, who understand their cities best, are given the tools they need to deliver growth, create jobs and start businesses.”

Sunderland Council leader Paul Watson said: “Centre for Cities has been producing its annual Outlook report for several years now, and some its statistics continue to put Sunderland towards the bottom of the pack.

“That’s not how it looks from here, and there’s little or no recognition of how things are actually going in the city.

“During 2010 and 2011, two of the toughest years this country has faced for decades, we attracted significant new investment, cemented our reputation as the UK’s automotive centre, were awarded an enterprise zone and secured funding to build the New Wear Crossing.

“To be frank, we are not interested in being compared with London - we are more interested in ensuring we continue to secure the economic development necessary for the city to continue its growth.

“In a report published jointly in October 2011 by Centre for Cities, Sunderland City Council and PWC Hidden potential: Supporting growth in Sunderland and similar cities, Centre for Cities concluded: ‘The strong growth of the private sectors of some of England’s mid-tier cities demonstrates the economic potential that they have.’

“This latest report reflects a moment in time and does not represent the considerable progress made across Sunderland in recent years.

“We are continuing to help create new jobs, improve educational achievement, increase what are already record levels of investment and work towards further improvements.”

WHO ELSE IS IN DANGER?

SUNDERLAND is lumped with Doncaster, Hull, Newport and Swansea in the list of “five cities likely to face real challenges in 2012”.

Based on figures from 2010, The Centre for Cities notes only 28 per cent of residents have qualifications no higher than five grade D to G GCSEs and “knowledge workers” make up only nine per cent of the city’s workforce.

The authors note Sunderland had 8.2 patents per 100,000 people in 2010, compared with 113 in high-flying Cambridge.

There were 16.8 business start-ups per 10,000 people the same year, compared with 65 in London.