Challenge to city economy

Janet Johnson

Janet Johnson

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SUNDERLAND will need to transform its economy if it is to survive the challenges to come – but the city has done it before and can do it again.

That was the message from city council deputy chief executive Janet Johnson as she addressed city business leaders at the Stadium of Light.

The council’s number two was speaking at a meeting of the North East Chamber of Commerce Sunderland committee after think tank Centre for Cities had identified Sunderland as one of the five cities nationwide most vulnerable to public sector cuts.

“It does give us a challenge, but it is one we have responded to in the past,” she said.

“We have done this before – Sunderland has transformed its economy before. If you look at the numbers of jobs in manufacturing, and in automotive manufacturing in particular, in financial services, in call centres, we have more jobs than we had in shipbuilding and in the coal mines put together 20 years ago.”

The council was facing a double whammy of challenges, with vulnerability to public sector cuts aggravated by the reduction in its funding from Government.

“It’s like having both hands tied behind your back,” said Mrs Johnson

“On the one hand, we have a think tank telling us we are the fifth most vulnerable city in the country and on the other hand, we are in the dozen councils in the country that have the worst settlements given to us by Government.”

The council’s economic masterplan – launched last year – would provide a blueprint for Wearside’s economic development for the next 15 years and there were reasons to be cheerful.

Ms Johnson added: “I would expect to see the Vaux site in public ownership very, very shortly, which will be a massive step forward and on Monday, our first electric car charging points will be launched.”

By the time the full network is rolled out across the city, electric car drivers should never be more than one-and-a-half miles from a charging point anywhere in Sunderland.