AN APPEAL for a business rate relief scheme to be extended to secure the future of one of Newport's landmark stores has been refused by the Welsh Government.

The Argus has previously reported how Debenhams - which owns a prominent store in Friars Walk - has been lobbying Wales' finance minister Rebecca Evans to scrap a cap on Non-Domestic Rates (NDR) relief during the coronavirus pandemic, meaning businesses with a rateable value of more than £500,000 are not eligible for support.

No such cap is in place in England.

But now, in a letter to Debenhams chairman Mark Gifford - who has previously said the company's Welsh stores would not be able to re-open unless the cap was abolished - Ms Evans has refused to overturn it.


Mr Gifford, in response, accused the finance minister of 'playing politics' with people's jobs.

In her letter, Ms Evans mentioned that the business was in its third insolvency process and said she believed abolishing the cap would not be an appropriate way to proceed.

"I note that the business faces significant challenges beyond the immediate business rates issue," she said.

"It was clear from our discussion that other forms of support might be more appropriate.

She added Welsh Government officials would liaise with Debenhams to discuss what alternative forms of support may be possible.

"I do however, need to emphasise that any financial support would need to comply with the usual requirements for due diligence purposes," she said.

"It would need to be accompanied by assurances that jobs would be safeguarded."

Newport's Debenhams store has a rateable value of £510,000, meaning it narrowly misses the eligibility for support.

Mr Gifford branded the minister's response "hugely disappointing" and said it "unnecessarily jeopardises hundreds of jobs across Wales".

"It is also at odds with the constructive approach being taken in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland to business rates during this unprecedented period," he said.

"I am heartened that while Ms Evans chooses to play politics with the jobs of our colleagues in Wales, some local councils are taking a more constructive approach and we continue to pursue all avenues to keep our major stores in Wales open."

Earlier this week it was announced Debenhams' Merthyr Tydfil store would not re-open, although this is reportedly the result of a breakdown in negotiations with the building's landlord rather than the issue around rate relief.

Newport's MPs and MSs (Members of the Senedd) wrote to the Welsh Government earlier this week calling on them to provide support for firms such as Debenhams.

John Griffiths, MS for Newport East, said today: “I am pleased to hear Debenhams has met with Welsh Government to discuss the current challenges.

"What matters now is finding them the support they need which enables them to continue their presence at Friars Walk.

"The store is very much the anchor to the rest of the shopping centre and key to bringing footfall into that part of the city.”