Government faces greater challenge to ‘level up’ Sunderland after Covid, says think tank

Sunderland will be better placed than many cities to bounce back from coronavirus – but the pandemic will make the Government’s commitment to ‘leveling up’ the North East even harder.
The Government faces a greater challenge to level up the North East after Covid, say expertsThe Government faces a greater challenge to level up the North East after Covid, say experts
The Government faces a greater challenge to level up the North East after Covid, say experts

That’s the message from Wearside-born economist Paul Swinney as think tank Centre for Cities launches a new report looking at the impact of the virus.

Cities Outlook 2021 says Covid-19’s economic damage makes the Government’s promise to level up the North East almost three times harder, with 47,700 people in the region’s cities now needing to find secure, well-paid jobs compared to 18,300 last March.

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Middlesbrough faces the biggest challenge, closely followed by Sunderland and Newcastle.

Paul Swinney Paul Swinney
Paul Swinney

And the report says not only does the Government face a challenge to level up the regions, it also needs to tackle the impact of Covid on the South East, with London, Crawley and Slough all hit hard by the pandemic.

Centre for Cities says measures that Chancellor Rishi Sunak should take including making the £20 rise in Universal Credit permanent, helping jobless people find new good jobs and looking at a renewed Eat Out to Help Out scheme for hospitality and non-online retailers once it is safe.

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Paul Swinney said the Government had won an election by promising to level up the regions but was now facing a much bigger challenge.

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The consolation for Sunderland was that it had not been hit as hard as many other parts of the country: “The number of people claiming benefit because they are unemployed has gone up but not as much as in places like Crawley and Slough,” he said.

“And when we look at the most recent data, Sunderland has some of the lowest numbers of people claiming furlough. It seems as though Sunderland’s economy has got on a little bit better than other places have.”

But while that should make it easier for Sunderland to get back to where it was pre-pandemic, that position left much to be desired, with wages lower than other areas and career progress more limited.

Recent developments, such as new commercial premises emerging on the Vaux site, were encouraging but the city was still too reliant on Nissan and the automotive sector.

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