Why Sunderland is weathering the economic storm

Sunderland's Nissan plant in Washington
Sunderland's Nissan plant in Washington
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SUNDERLAND has survived the recession better than many other cities nationwide but still faces significant challenges for the future.

That’s the conclusion from thinktank Centre for Cities, which releases its annual Cities Outlook report today.

Centre for Cities' Paul Swinney

Centre for Cities' Paul Swinney

Sunderland is one of 20 cities highlighted as having seen a “large relative improvement” in their economy over the last three years.

But the report also rates Wearside as bottom of the league for business start-ups and reveals the city has seen the biggest fall in population of any in the UK between 2001 and 2011 – a total of 9,000.

Sunderland-born Paul Swinney – one of the report’s authors – said: “What has been easy to see is Sunderland was not the hardest hit in business terms and in the last three years it has actually performed better than a lot of other cities.

“That is partly because of places like Nissan and the impact that has on employment but there has also been stability in the housing market, the number of businesses has remained fairly stable and wages have held up better than they did in a lot of other cities.

“There has been some good performance over the last couple of years. It is all relative, but it has been ‘less bad’ than some other cites, though there are still some fundamental issues around enterprise, skills and the city centre.”

The lack of new business start-ups was typical of areas with a history of heavy industry, which former St Aidan’s pupil Paul saw was down to “a lack of enterprise culture.”.

“If you look at areas that have a history of coalmining, for example, a lot of these places have low business start-up rates,” he said: “It was a culture that you left school and you worked for a big employer rather than think ‘I will start my own business.’

“That probably prevails a little bit still – you’ve got auto-manufacturing, call centres and the public sector, that are all large employers. The city has probably not changed as much as others.”

Sunderland City Council has identified the creation of new jobs in the centre of Sunderland as a priority for its 15-year economic masterplan – and Paul believes the nature of new jobs would be as important as the number.

“Sunderland does not have a lot of people employed in the city centre,” he said. “That has an impact on footfall and footfall has an impact on retail and leisure.

“People tend to leave home in Silksworth, drive to work at Doxford, then get back in the car and go back to their house. There is no need for them to go into the city centre during the week.”

City council leader coun Paul Watson said: “The last three years have been some of the toughest this city and country have faced for more than a decade but, as Centre for Cities recognises, we have been far more robust and resilient and are recovering faster than most cities.

“Our reputation as the UK’s automotive centre continues to be bolstered, new jobs are being created, educational attainment continues to improve, and there are strong levels of public and private sector investment.

“In the city centre this week, preliminary work is starting for the re-shaping of St Mary’s Way as we move to completing work on the Vaux site and prepare for its development as a central business district.

“Both Vaux and Sunderland city centre will look and feel very different by 2014.”

There are many examples of how, in incredibly challenging circumstances, the city has forged ahead with the development of its economy, as it has always done when the going has been tough.”