Ahead of the EU referendum, the Vote Leave campaign presents its case to Sunderland Echo readers:
For Sunderland Echo reader Neil Chapman, the answer to the EU debate is perfectly simple.
“If you weren’t in the EU, would you vote to join now? It’s a shambles,” he told the Echo’s online survey recently – before casting his vote firmly for Leave.
His views have a lot of support in Sunderland – 400 out of 500 people who responded to the survey were for leaving the EU. And they’re also widely reflected around the country, as other, broader surveys show.
As a major city with more than 273,000 residents, votes in Sunderland will play a major part in the big decision on June 23.
And as the Echo’s own poll shows, the vast majority of residents are already planning to vote for a Brexit.
As they have already realised, for Sunderland people it makes a great deal of sense if the UK shakes off the shackles of the EU.
For instance, it’s estimated that by 2021, the NHS in Sunderland will face a deficit of £72.5million, which could mean patients do not get the healthcare they badly need.
But the UK hands over £350million to the EU every week – and this could instead be spent on priorities such as the health service, upon which everyone depends.
Who would complain if Sunderland Royal Hospital was able to afford even better equipment and more nurses?
In the economy, too, residents could reap the benefits of voting Leave, ridding the UK of a huge amount of red tape and unnecessary, business-choking regulation.
Sunderland is renowned as a hard-working city with a long and proud tradition of industrial skill.
These days, local people put those talents to work in some of the UK’s most significant businesses, contributing massively to the national economy and supporting the city’s own financial well-being.
While some have worried that those businesses might be affected if the UK left the EU, there’s evidence of a very different view.
Small North East businesses are also largely convinced that an exit would have positive benefits.
A survey for YouGov/Business for Britain in January showed that by 54% to just 17% local firms say the UK can trade and cooperate with the EU without giving away permanent control over our economy.
Sunderland knows more than a bit about trading successfully with the rest of the world – the city has done it for centuries.
And with national sovereignty confirmed by an exit from the EU and funding clawed back from Brussels, the people of the city will be more than ready to take advantage of the world of new opportunities that will follow.