SUNDERLAND will be one of the cities hardest hit by public sector spending cuts, a leading policy think tank is warning.
Centre for Cities today named Sunderland as one of five cities it claims are particularly vulnerable – alongside Liverpool, Birkenhead, Swansea and Newport.
The think tank’s chief executive Alexandra Jones said: “Buoyant cities like Leeds and Bristol, which have been fast-growing and have lots of private sector jobs, are best placed to lead the UK’s recovery.
“The UK cities most dependent on the public sector, and which have seen slower economic growth over the last decade, will find it more difficult to rebalance towards the private sector. These cities will need realistic plans of action to ride out the spending cuts and create jobs – but they will also need additional financial support from central Government.”
But Sunderland council’s chief executive Dave Smith will challenge the centre’s conclusions when he gives a key note address at the report’s launch in London today.
Mr Smith is also challenging claims Sunderland’s rate of business per head of population is the lowest in the country, pointing to the presence of many large employers, such as Nissan, EDF Energy and Barclays on Wearside.
He said: “With Nissan’s decision to produce an all-electric car in Sunderland and our prospects for attracting the off-shore wind industry, Sunderland is well-placed to be at the heart of the low-carbon economy. Sunderland’s economy has come a long way in the last 20 years. We continue to adapt and to keep Sunderland improving we have to look ahead to emerging opportunities.
“We all want a more prosperous future for the city and we now have a clear Economic Masterplan to achieve this.”
North East Chamber of Commerce Sunderland committee chairman Gary Hutchinson said Sunderland had proved it could cope with whatever was thrown at it. He said: “Despite the report, I believe our city is still well placed to drive economic recovery and perhaps the statisticians churning out these forecasts are underestimating our proven resolve.
“There are success stories such as Nissan and the city has become a leading location for contact centres and software industry over recent times.
“Our city council has also pledged to minimize the knock-on effects of its own cuts, particularly where mass redundancies are concerned; a stance which many other local authorities have been reluctant or unable to match.
Houghton and Sunderland south MP Bridget Phillipson said the report was proof the Government was failing the region. She said: “At at time when we need the government to support growth, jobs and local businesses instead we see cuts that risk our long-term economic future.
“The short-sightedness of the Government jeopardises the huge progress we have made in recent years. It’s simply wrong that areas like Sunderland are being hit the hardest in order to protect affluent areas.”
But city Tory leader Coun Tony Morrissey said the Government was already helping those cities hardest hit and said that the Government has already recognised where will be hardest hit through the Regional Opportunities Fund.
He said: “The Government is well aware some regions are going to take longer to recover from the downturn than others.”
Professor Kevin Hannen, director of the centre for research into the experience economy (Cree) in Sunderland University’s Faculty of Business and Law, said: “While the reports highlights some of the major difficulties that Sunderland, like other North East cities, is facing, it does not show some of the important effects that are finally being made to turn around the picture presented.
“Statistically, Sunderland may be described as a vulnerable city, it is also one that continues to regenerate through tourism, culture and the arts and is very much a vibrant city.”
And no one was surprised at the report on the streets of Sunderland. Doris Pryor, 74, said it comes as no surprise that a city like Sunderland would be among those hardest hit when it comes to getting out of the econimic crisis. She said: “It is the Tory Government, they have got it in for us in the North, it was always been the same.”
And George Oswald, 57, a retired miner from Silksworth, said: “This does not surprise me one little bit. It is a lot to do with MPs we have had in the region, a lot of the time Labour MPs come here because it is a safe seat and then disappear.”
Kenny Harrison, 75, a retired shipyard worker from Hendon, said the economic situation at the moment, including getting his pension cut, is terrible. He said: “I wish we had never lost the shipyards, that was a dreadful blow to Sunderland. Now, there are just no jobs for young people to get.”
Mum-of-three Denise Stockdale, 38, from Humbledon, said it will take a long time for Sunderland to recover from the current economic situation. She said: “People are having to make lots of cutbacks.”
* City deputy chief executive Janet Johnson will outline Sunderland’s economic outlook at a meeting of the North East Chamber of commerce’s Sunderland Committee at the Stadium of Light from 4.30pm tomorrow.