AS an influential businessman, chairman of One North East, deputy lieutenant of Tyne and Wear and chairman of the board of Sunderland University, Paul Callaghan is right at the centre of policy making in the North East. TOM WHITE spoke to him about the economy and life on Wearside.
IF there is one thing certain about Paul Callaghan it is this – he’s proud to be from the North East.
Whether it’s in his roles with Sunderland University, One North East or the SAFC Foundation, he is definitely one of Wearside’s most influential sons.
Born in Shiney Row, he grew up with a real sense of pride in his home town and now spends his time influencing and strategising how to make the region better and more prosperous.
“When I was born, 25 per cent of all ships in this country were built here in Sunderland”, he proudly states. “But now, 50 per-cent off all cars produced in this country are made here, which is a tremendous compliment to the workforce and the ethic we have here that they have managed to achieve this.
“People used to say when I was growing up, ‘if London was not London, Sunderland would be’.
“My dad had an awful lot of civic pride in Sunderland and he gave me a real sense of place and an understanding of my roots.”
This sense of pride has driven him on and he is now in a position to assess the state Sunderland is in and how the region is fairing in uncertain times.
CALLAGHAN ON ONE NORTH EAST
THE budget cuts from Central Government have also seen regional bodies being broken down and wound up – including the regional development agency One North East.
Paul was involved with the agency for about six years.
“We were able to see the region in its entirety and could plan the regeneration of the North East as a whole and we could help ensure businesses prospered across the region,” he said.
“I believe it had done a pretty good job. No organisation is perfect, but I think it had made a really big impact on the region.
“We have been able to help facilitate the introduction of the electric cars at Nissan and we played a significant role in that.
“Software City has also done really well and we have been able to help it start to move on to the next level.
“I also think Sunderland has done pretty well from the input One North East has given where we really have wanted to establish a large sustainable industry as well as a knowledge based industry.
“We have also been able to give great support to the university and this can be seen in the new science complex which is really world class.”
But come March 2012, the agency will be no more and as a result there may well be opportunities missed and funding that the region will no longer be able to access.
He said “I know we live in a democracy and the Government has chosen to close it but we were investing £250million into the region and this was also being matched by funding from Europe.
“But now there will be a big pot of European money sitting there and we might not get it as it needs to be matched at our end.
“Also, if we had more time I wanted to help facilitate the offshore wind farm industry in the region.
“We had a goal to see all three major rivers in the North East playing a big role in the offshore industry but as a result of the closure we may see a lot of the investment head north to Scotland.
“It could still be a big opportunity but it needs to be grasped as the agency was playing a major part in it – the baton needs to be passed on to someone else now in these efforts.”
“FOR many years the North East was regarded as a weak economy, but before the credit crunch we were growing faster than London.” Paul said.
“We also had the lowest level of unemployment in the region in a generation, but now it will take a number of years before unemployment comes down to the levels it was at before 2008.
“Everyone understands now there is a deficit problem, but my concern is that it seems to me that we in the North East are very vulnerable.
“We don’t have the financial services like the City of London does and we are very reliant on manufacturing and when the economy dips that often means manufacturing dips as well.
“We also have a public sector that is being trimmed quite substantially.
“I do welcome things like the new bridge that will boost the economy but it is going to be quite a difficult few years.
“We have lost shipbuilding and mining in my lifetime and we need to replace them with new industries.
“Car manufacturing is one of those replacements and so we need to focus on other industries like software to also build that up.
“We also have to change the skills of the population to match this shift in the economy.
“We must focus on changing the industrial structure, the infrastructure we work in and what the workforce can do.”