The leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Group on Swansea Council, Chris Holley, has welcomed today's decision by the Senedd Petitions Committee to seek more information from Welsh Ministers on talks to keep Debenham's stores open in Wales, and to ask for a debate in the Senedd on this issue.
The decision follows a 5,790 petition collected by Swansea's opposition councillors highlighting the decision of the Welsh Government to adopt different non-domestic relief policies to England for the retail sector, excluding the small proportion of properties with a rateable value of over £500,000. They argued that, with Debenhams already in financial trouble, this threatens the viability of all their Welsh stores and the future of up to 900 staff.
A solution put in place by Swansea Council to offer some relief for the city centre's store has meant that it can reopen, but all that has done is to defer the payment of rates. This money still becomes due on 31 March 2021, and could cause the shop to close at that point.
Commenting on the petition committee's decision, Councillor Chris Holley said: 'There is every reason to believe that if Debenhams reopens in Swansea in more normal times then it will survive. It is one of their most successful stores.
'The threshold for rates relief being set by the Welsh Government of £500,000 may well assist a lot of smaller businesses, but the larger stores with higher rateable value act as anchor stores, and the footfall they attract into town and city centres helps sustain those smaller retail businesses. If these anchor stores disappear then other, smaller businesses may fail as well. That is why Wales should have followed the model of relief adopted by the UK Government.
'I note that talks are ongoing with Debenhams and I am happy that the committee will explore further with the Minister the options being looked at in these talks and their likelihood of success in securing the future of Debenham stores in Wales. There are a lot of jobs at stake here, as well as the future viability of many shopping centres, already in trouble because of the Covid lockdown, and not all the people at risk of losing their jobs work for Debenhams.'