NEWPORT cannot afford to have Debenhams leave the city centre, a senior city councillor has warned.

Cllr Matthew Evans, leader of Newport's Conservative group, was speaking following the news that chairman of Debenhams Mark Gifford had accused the Welsh Government's finance minister Rebecca Evans of 'playing politics with people's jobs' after refusing to extend a tax relief scheme.

Blasting the decision not to extend the scheme as "incredibly short-sighted", Cllr Evans said: "Debenhams wouldn't have gone public if they weren't frustrated.


"Newport city centre was on its knees before we got this store and we cannot afford to lose it."

He added: "Newport needs all the help it can get."

The Welsh Government has placed a cap on NDR relief during the coronavirus pandemic, meaning businesses with a rateable value of more than £500,000 are not eligible for relief.

The Newport store has a rateable value of £510,000.

No such cap is in place over the border in England.

Mr Gifford has said, if the cap is not removed, the company's Welsh stores will not re-open. And many, including Newport's MSs and MPs, have said losing the store - the anchor of the Friars Walk development - would be detrimental to the overall city centre.

Chairman of Newport Now Business Improvement District (BID), Zep Bellavia echoed this sentiment.

He said: "We would urge both parties to continue talking and to find a solution to this issue. There is a real threat of Debenhams pulling out of Newport and other key city centres in Wales.

"A way of avoiding this needs to be found.

"Like all BIDs, we lobby on behalf of all the businesses we represent irrespective of their size. Debenhams is an integral part of Newport city centre and keeping the store here is important."

South Wales East AM Mohammad Asghar has also written to economy minister Ken Skates asking him to step in.

In his letter he said: “In Newport, Debenhams is considered to be the only anchor retail unit in the Friars Walk development which has supported the regeneration of the city centre and greatly increased footfall.

"My biggest concern is the direct affect on the individuals and the families of the employees of the store and I feel it is essential that the Welsh Government steps in to support the long-term survival of the business and ensure that jobs are not lost.

“I do appreciate that the current pandemic has put a massive strain upon public spending, but ensuring that people have jobs to return to needs to be the Welsh Government's priority.

"Over this Senedd’s term there have been a significant amount of businesses closing their doors for good. The Welsh Government cannot stand by and allow further business closures to stunt the growth we have seen in Wales.”