Photo by Quaid Lagan on Unsplash

There are two things you’ll notice in Newcastle on a weekend. The first is the roar from St James’ Park and although Newcastle United is still a million miles away from being fan-owned, every single fan I know is delighted to see the back of Mike Ashley. The second is just how important retail is to the City, this is why I knew it was vital to bring a motion to full council earlier this month in support of the Co-operative Party ‘Unlock The High Street’ campaign, which was passed unanimously.

In the heart of Newcastle, we’ve got what is perhaps the North East’s most well-known shopping centre, Eldon Square, the upmarket Fenwick Newcastle, the historic Grainger market and Northumberland Street which for my money rivals London’s Oxford Street in terms of its retail offer. Outside the city centre, we have some brilliant high streets in our communities. But as brilliant as they all are, I can’t pretend that everything is completely rosy.

We know that the system of business rates is skewed against bricks and mortar businesses. In common with everywhere else, Newcastle has lost some famous department stores which have proved difficult to replace and retail units can be difficult to fill in our communities. Our city has fared better than some, remaining resilient to a changing economy and shopping habits: Labour in Newcastle knows how important our retail centres are and have invested time and money into them, ensured we have rethought the purpose of the city centre to deliver a devise offer but what’s clear is things need to change if we are to radically unlock the power of our high streets.

Much has been made that the UK will shortly have the highest tax burden since the 1940s (though it will still be lower than in France and Germany, countries that seem to be able to deliver good quality public services and have high productivity). Yet we’re not feeling the benefits of tax here in Newcastle. With the Budget coming up, we need a bold announcement from the Chancellor to give communities and bricks and mortar businesses a boost. He could do a lot worse than sort out the disparity between traditional and internet-based businesses.