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Empty shops and rising unemployment

Despite the parliamentary recess I am having a very busy week indeed…

Yesterday I attended the latest Local Data Company Retail Summit to mark the launch of their latest empty shops report and to discuss the state of our high streets and town centres. I was pleased to be on the panel with Emma Simpson the BBC News correspondent, Jackie Sadek from Regeneration UK, Ben Dowd Business Director for O2 and independent retailer and shop owner Paul Turner-Mitchell.

The latest empty shops figures show a flat-lining for retail but with some areas, notably the West Midlands and the North West doing particularly badly. empty shops

I highlighted the need for diversification on our high streets and for Government to bring together the disparate and inefficient funding pots into a single fund that could strategically focus on regenerating  the high street in the areas that need it most. This would be overseen by partnerships of local businesses,  local authorities and the local community.

The Government also needs to give local authorities much greater powers over use class orders which determine how buildings can be used (e.g. for a specific type of shop, for housing or offices). I think this localised power would be a much better alternative that the government’s approach which seems set on getting rid of use classes all together and allowing a free for all.

The summit was absolutely packed, even with a starting time of 8am, which I think goes to show the level of interest there is in the state and future of our high streets.

Clearly much of this interest is due to a concern that the overall problems facing the high street, especially th challenges that come with increasing online shopping, are not being adequately addressed and that a consideration of what we expect our high streets to look like in 20 years time is long overdue.

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Today we have had the worrying news that unemployment in Durham has risen again.. The latest figures show an increase in the claimant count, which now stands at 4.9% in the constituency. This makes Durham’s unemployment higher than the national average.

We desperately need this Government to pay more attention to the needs of the North East. Our region has the ability to help deliver economic growth for the whole region, but the Government’s policies continue to undermine our ability to do this.

I will continue to call on the Government to come up with a real plan for jobs and growth for the North East.

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