A DISGRUNTLED trader says South Tyneside businesses feel ‘strung along’ after it was revealed a controversial tenant decorating scheme will continue well into next year.
Walter Metcalfe, who has run Metcalfe’s Home Decor in Westoe Road for more than 40 years, has fought hard to revamp a South Tyneside Homes scheme which gives tenants up to £200 to spend on decorating a new property or one in which work has been carried out – but only at DIY giants B&Q.
Mr Metcalfe and fellow small DIY stores were given assurances back in April that the initiative would be widened to include independent shops.
But South Tyneside Homes has now confirmed that the B&Q link-up, which can earn up to £200,000 a year, will continue until at least August 2013, as a binding contract is in place until that date.
Mr Metcalfe and other businesses have attended regular meetings in a bid to iron out a new agreement to include South Tyneside’s traders.
But they feel traders will continue to lose out if customers are not given the choice where to splash their cash.
The 74-year-old says he is only asking for customers to be given a choice of where they wish to spend their money.
He says he has had to turn away many shoppers who are part of the scheme – and send them on their way to B&Q.
Mr Metcalfe told the Gazette: ”I was disappointed but not surprised that South Tyneside Homes have decided that B&Q will remain the sole supplier of decorating materials to council tenants.
“All they have done in the past three years is make vague promises to review this practice at some indeterminate future date.
“We feel like we’ve been strung along all this time. So once again, small businesses lose out, with tenants unable to use their vouchers to seek the best selection, service and value available.
“They say the B&Q contract will end in August 2013, therefore a plan should already be well in hand if they really want to involve other retailers.”
The project was introduced in January 2010, and Mr Metcalfe and wife Kathleen, 71, say trade has been hit significantly by its introduction.
Now they are seeking assurances that independent shops will be part of the scheme after August 2013.
In April, South Tyneside Homes announced it was in talks with B&Q over allowing more local traders to play a part. But Mr Metcalfe fears that promise is as far away as ever with at least another nine months on the outside looking in. Mark Whittle, director of Investment for South Tyneside Homes, said: “We have worked closely with local traders and the council to review our arrangements, and our board has agreed to look at a more flexible scheme from August 2013.
“We are committed to working with local traders whilst ensuring that we get the best possible value for money for council tenants, and would like to thank Mr Metcalfe for his contribution to our planning.
“We understand Mr Metcalfe’s concern, but regret that it would not be possible to make changes to the scheme before August as there is a contract in place.”
A B&Q spokeswoman previously told the Gazette: “We pitched for this business and were appointed as their chosen supplier.
“This experience helps us provide the best schemes, products and deals to satisfy the community.
“As well as being the nation’s largest home improvement centre, our ties within the local community in South Tyneside are strong.”