SOUTH Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck is hoping to spark a debate in Parliament on the state of UK high streets – after admitting the decline of the town’s main shopping thoroughfare “breaks my heart”.
The MP has become alarmed at the number of retail outlets closing in King Street over recent months.
The decision by iconic brand Marks and Spencer to exit the town after 80 years was a particular body blow.
However, other retailers have left or are about to leave, including Mothercare, Thorntons, Internacionale and Greggs restaurant.
Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “I’m looking in the very near future either to get a debate in Parliament, or if not, write to communities secretary Eric Pickles, about what the Government intends to do to support our high streets.
“It’s really sad that we have got shops leaving King Street. People automatically say ‘oh, it’s the council’s fault’, but the council does not set business rates and they don’t own those buildings.
“It’s the Government that sets business rates and Labour’s got plans to cut and freeze business rates, and for an energy price freeze to help small business.
“I don’t understand why the Government won’t implement those things because it would actually see a revival of our high streets. I was in King Street recently and it was really sad to see. I used to go there when I was a kid. Each time I see in the Gazette that another shop is closing, it breaks my heart. I think the Government needs to do something about this. They can’t just sit on their laurels.
“Of course, it’s not something which is particular to South Shields, it is happening across the country. I’m going to try and get a debate in Parliament.
“If I can’t get that I will at least write to Eric Pickles and I will give the Gazette a copy of his response, so people can see that I’m at least trying to do something.”
Town Hall bosses have no control on either the setting of rents in the street or on rate levels, which are set by central Government and merely collected locally by the council.
A council spokesman told the Gazette recently that business rates are a “major bone of contention” – but explained that they are set by Government, not the council.
South Tyneside gets to keep 50 per cent of the business rates it collects in the borough, with the other 50 per cent going into a central Government pot.
Out of that, a proportion is redistributed to the council to recognise the local authority’s financial needs.
The last revaluation of properties for rating purposes was carried out in 2008, the next being proposed for 2017.
The council itself pays business rates for its offices, schools, day centres and all other buildings it occupies, in exactly the same way as other private sector occupiers.