And it’s not the football club causing all the fretting and grief. They’re so used to trouble and uncertainty at the Stadium of Light that it hardly causes any gnashing of teeth – the gnashers got worn away years ago.
Yes, the Black Cats are facing a relegation battle. Again. I can’t remember a season when they went into the last few games knowing what division they’d be kicking off in come August. And yes, some Mackems are still sore at losing Sam Allardyce to England. Which didn’t exactly turn out well for Big Sam or England either, did it?
But what’s really causing worry and woe on Wearside is the future of its biggest employer.
A third of all the cars made in Britain roll out of the Sunderland Nissan plant. I remember well how it seemed the town’s salvation when the shiny, state-of-the-art factory opened 30 years ago. How it turned around the fortunes of a town that had seemed sunk in a terminal slough with the demise of the coal and shipbuilding industries. And an awful lot hangs locally on where the Japanese company decides to build its next Qashqai model.
Of course, Sunderland didn’t swing the summer’s Brexit vote all by itself. But the way the referendum results came in, it was the Sunderland announcement that gave the first real indication that the vote wouldn’t go the way everyone predicted.
Someone I know well was at the count in Sunderland when the figures were revealed. She reported that the mood in the hall was buoyant even before the result was given, and cock-a-hoop when it was. Not that most there really knew, or cared, much about Europe. Just that they were delivering a massive “Up yours!” to David Cameron.
Some of them are regretting it now. Especially after Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn said he’d scrap investment plans in Sunderland if Brexit meant the company would have to pay tariffs to export British-built cars to the EU. Unless the government comes up with a big compensation package – before the Brexit deal is finalised.
He told reporters at the Paris motor show: “If I need to make an investment in the next few months and I can’t wait until the end of Brexit, then I have to make a deal with the UK government. If there are tax barriers being established on cars, you have to have a commitment for car-makers who export to Europe that there is some kind of compensation.”
The same, one might add, applies to a lot of things other than car-manufacturing. In a globalised world, Nissan is not the only foreign investor, or potential investor, casting a quizzical eye over moves towards “a hard Brexit”. Ripples of uncertainty cause further ripples to no one yet knows what effect.
Life and business as we know them didn’t actually end the day after the referendum. Some people take that as evidence that the predicted catastrophe was a phoney. But Brexit hasn’t actually taken place yet. Its precise form isn’t yet known – which is where Nissan’s doubts and uncertainties lie.
Maybe the apparent slight recovery of the UK economy was just the natural drawback of waves from the shore before the tsunami strikes.
In a Sunderland Echo readers’ poll, 68% answered Yes to the question: “Are you concerned about Nissan’s future in Sunderland post-Brexit?”
One reader, Allan McManus, told the paper: “It’s all Sunderland has. You think it will be just Nissan workers affected, but it will spread to everyone, including small business owners who would be doing work for people who work for Nissan or somewhere connected to Nissan.”
It’s a classic case of “be careful what you wish for” – or what you vote for. And of being wise after the event. “If I’d known then what I know now”, and all that. Bit late now to say they should have known all along, but they should.
Just as Sam Allardyce should have known better when the apparently dodgy geezers from the Telegraph came ringing his bell.
My old mate Doug Coombes made a good point about last week’s column – the one about the doctor who gave up drugs. “There’s so much talk of funding or not funding the NHS and so little discussion of where the money goes,” Doug said. And where does it go? “In huge quantities to the drugs companies.”
And there’s this. The pharmaceutical giants are pretty good at keeping relatively wealthy Westerners young – or at least smoothing out their wrinkles and restoring their sex drive. They don’t invest so much in less lucrative things like finding a cure for malaria, TB or leprosy. Bring money into anything and it’s always First World first.