Sunderland council leader warns area faces 'great deal of uncertainty' as it emerges from pandemic

Sunderland’s council leader has warned the North East faces an “uncertain” period as part of the pandemic recovery process, and stressed the importance of Government support.

Thursday, 29th July 2021, 4:20 pm
Sunderland City Council leader Councillor Graeme Miller.

Cllr Graeme Miller, Sunderland City Council leader, made the comments after a presentation from officers on the Covid-19 regional response and the pandemic impact on economic and labour markets.

North East Combined Authority (NECA) Economic Development and Digital Advisory Board heard this week of the “profound economic shock” of the pandemic, with different sectors impacted in varying ways.

As the presentation looked towards the next steps for the region, Cllr Miller, who was chairing the meeting, concluded it faces a period of uncertainty.

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Cllr Miller said: “In one sentence I can paraphrase it, a great deal of uncertainty.

“Moving out of hopefully Covid this year, and I really do hope we manage that, we are going just to be in a different place.

“Lets just focus on making sure as an area we’re doing everything we can to ensure our businesses are successful.”

He stressed the importance of Government support being provided, including to councils, to enable them to plan more long term.

He said: “It’s remarkable that none of this is referencing ongoing austerity, we’ve had 11 years of it and every council in this chamber is still having to find cuts out of 2024, and it’s not savings, it’s cuts.”

He also noted while Government ministers recently spoke about wanting councils to have 10 to 20 year plans, councils need longer term financial arrangements outlined to help support this.

Cllr Miller added while the furlough scheme has “held society together” they will have to keep a “very careful eye” on what happens going forward, to ensure poverty and unemployment rates don’t fall.

Cllr Amanda Hopgood, leader of Durham County Council, noted some people would have saved money during the pandemic, and they need to encourage them to spend it in the North East.

She said: “I know they are probably few and far between, but there are some people who have saved a lot of money because they haven’t had to travel, they haven’t had to pay nursery fees.

“They’ve had a lot more disposable cash than they would have had.”

Councillor Malcolm Brain, Gateshead representative, also noted how Covid-19 work styles would have impacted people in different ways financially.

He said: “It disproportionately has been a benefit to the professional groups, whereas other groups have been exactly the opposite largely.

“The overall effect is to widen the gap between the affluent and disadvantaged groups in our societies, and I think that’s the case in the North East, possibly more than anywhere else.”

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