Sunderland has ‘lowest number of businesses’ – but city leaders are confident of growth

Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson.
Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson.
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CIVIC bosses remain confident Sunderland has a bright economic future, despite a new report which says it has fewer businesses per head of population than any other city in the UK.

The Centre for Cities’ 2015 Cities Outlook report ranks Sunderland as the lowest out of 64 for ‘business stock’, with 186 businesses per 10,000 people.

The city is also second bottom for new business start-ups and patents registered.

It is not all bad news, however, with the city ranked fourth best in the country for manufacturing jobs and 22 out of 60 for the number of people with 5A*-C GCSEs including Maths & English.

Sunderland City Council leader Coun Paul Watson said: “This Centre for Cities report offers a useful comparison which confirms that we are making good progress on a number of fronts, but that we face some of the same challenges that we have been aware of for a long time.

“What lies behind the figures is perhaps most interesting for Sunderland residents.

“Manufacturing, in particular, has undergone a period of rapid growth within the city – with Nissan having increased output by 50 per cent in the last two years.

“And we’ve seen a spate of private investment in the city centre complemented by our own investment in new public space such as the Keel Square, which is nearing completion.

“With these behind us, Sunderland is on course for further growth in jobs and prosperity in the years to come.”

Today’s report highlights the growing gulf between the south of England and the rest of Britain.

It shows that for every 12 net new jobs created between 2004 and 2013 in cities in the south, only one was created in cities throughout the rest of Great Britain.

And with an election just months away, it calls on all parties to ensure their visions for growing cities are based on significant devolution of both fiscal and structural power, providing incentives to support economic growth, and giving greater flexibility to ensure money can be spent where it is most needed.

Cities Outlook is the annual health-check of the economic performance of the United Kingdom’s 64 largest cities.

This year’s report maps the fortunes of cities over a decade of economic boom and bust, during which three major parties have held power.

It shows national growth between 2004 and 2013 was largely driven by only a handful of cities – mainly located in the South – which have seen their populations boom, their number of businesses grow, and thousands of new jobs created while migration of young and skilled workers, a lack of business growth, and falling employment opportunities have other cities’ economies to contract.

The report says successive Governments’ efforts have failed to rebalance the national economy and warns even the best-performing cities in the south are now facing problems, especially from rocketing house prices.

“Five months out from the election, this report makes the strongest economic case yet for the next Government to step up to the challenge of investing in the long-term success of our cities, and build a brighter future in which more people and places can contribute to, and share in, prosperity and growth,” said Centre for Cities acting chief executive Andrew Carter.

“The stark picture the report paints of the enormous gap in the fortunes of UK cities over 10 years underlines why a ‘steady as she goes’ approach must be scrapped.

“We must move from thinking that bundling up new funding streams with bureaucratic delays, or simply tinkering around the edges with well-intentioned announcements, will be enough to reverse trends that are becoming increasingly entrenched.

“Cities need long-term funding and strategic planning, and policies that go to the heart of addressing the key drivers of economic growth – including transport, planning, skills and housing.

“This report throws down the gauntlet for all parties to turn their recent interest and pledges around cities and devolution into a clear plan to grow jobs and businesses, and improve quality of life throughout the United Kingdom.”