Put money in people's pockets or culture aims won't succeed, says Sunderland economist

Sunderland faces twin challenges, says Wearside-born Centre for Cities economist Paul Swinney '“ attracting high-quality new jobs and preparing its workforce for the future.

Monday, 29th January 2018, 12:53 pm
Updated Monday, 29th January 2018, 12:56 pm
Paul Swinney

The city had been extremely successful at replacing the jobs it had lost with the closure of its traditional industries – but the quality of those posts was a problem: “There has been a huge improvement since Sunderland lost the mines and the shipbuilding industry,” said Paul.

“There are more jobs in Sunderland now than there were back in the 1970s, which is a really good sign for the city.

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“The problem is the type of jobs that have been created have been low-skilled and low-paid. So while there are more jobs, the wages offered have not been that great.”

The situation had been similar across the north of the country: That has had an impact on the money in people’s pockets and that has widened the gap between cities in the North and South.

“You tend to see that across a lot of Northern cities - a lot of them have been hit hard by the loss of their key industries.

“Other jobs have been created but these others jobs have been low-skilled. That is not unique to Sunderland – it is also true of Middlesbrough, Newcastle, and a lot of industrial cities in the North.

“It is not that there are not more opportunities, it is that those opportunities are not particularly well paid.

“The big challenge for cities such as Sunderland is how to change that.

“How do you attract investment, so you have jobs that pay more, so people have more money and prosperity increases as a result?”

Attracting high-quality vacancies meant having a workforce ready to fill them: “The main thing has to be about helping people to cope with the ongoing changes in the world of work,” said Paul.

“That is very much about skills. We are talking in terms of schools needing to prepare children for the future. As for people who are already in work, how do we help them to adapt through continuous learning, lifelong learning, giving them the skills required?”

He added: “What we see is high-skilled businesses increasingly want city centre locations. The Carillion collapse does not help in that respect.

“There has to be a mix of things at the same time - providing appropriate office space and a better cultural offer are important parts of that mix.

“Any attempt to revive Sunderland through cultural means will not be successful if you have not got a strong economy.

“Put money into people’s pockets and the demand for cultural activity will increase.”