South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck says a Government minister gave her the cold shoulder during a Parliamentary debate she had secured on the future of struggling high streets.
She put Brandon Lewis, under-secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, on the spot during the debate, which made particular reference to the economic downturn’s impact on the King Street shopping thoroughfare in her own constituency.
The MP had made a fact-finding visit to the street to talk to traders before the Parliamentary debate and raised concerns at the high levels of business rates being charged.
In his response, Mr Lewis praised the “great work” being done to revive high streets nationwide and highlighted the ‘South Shields 365’ masterplan, saying that if high streets were to survive they needed to be “more than simply places to shop”.
Mr Lewis said: “Many local councils are committed to the regeneration of their town centres and to longer-term programmes, such as the £100 million plan, South Shields 365, which aims to regenerate the area. The plan includes a new central library and digital media centre; improvements to the market square and the public realm; new integrated transport, retail, leisure and cinema facilities. If high streets are to remain at the heart of our communities, they need to be more than simply places to shop.”
But during a heated debate, the minister refused on three occasions to allow Mrs Lewell-Buck to interject with questions.
Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “On three or four occasions I asked the minister to give way because he was saying things that were simply not correct, but he refused to do so. The minister batted off criticisms and blamed everyone else for the Government’s failures.
“He made reference to local authorities now being able to discount business rates by 100 per cent. But the Local Government Association clearly states that most councils can’t use those powers because they are costly and bureaucratic.
“He also made reference to lifting planning restrictions to allow flexibility on our high streets, but that has merely allowed an increase in businesses such as pawnbrokers and taken away control from local councils.”
Mrs Lewell-Buck said she would be attempting to raise her concerns again at Department of Communities and Local Governments’ questions in Parliament on Monday.
Source – Shields Gazette, 28 June 2014