Portsmouth MP presses PM over city’s high street decline

Stephen Morgan MP today asked the Prime Minister at PMQs what her plan is to save high streets following the announcement that Knight & Lee is to close. Rather than provide assurances for Portsmouth, regrettably the PM dodged the question.

News landed that Knight & Lee was facing closure last week. This will be the first closure by John Lewis since 2006. The Portsmouth born MP realises the adverse effect that this closure could have on the community and has been making every effort to get assurances from all involved parties that the people of Portsmouth will be prioritised.

Upon hearing the news, Mr. Morgan wrote a letter to the Managing Director of John Lewis, expressing the need for them to confirm their commitment to Portsmouth. Once he heard that the store had already been sold, he contacted That Group who are the new owners, pressing for assurances that the building’s future would be in line with the needs of people in Portsmouth and urged them for a meeting.

Conversations have already taken place between the Portsmouth MP and the City Council Chief Executive, efforts will be made to continue talks as the situation progresses.

The MP has also asked John Lewis to consider improving ‘click and collect’ facilities in the city and to keep the jobs in Portsmouth.

Mr. Morgan wrote to Managing Director of John Lewis:

“Knight & Lee, first established in 1865, is a vital and well-loved asset in my constituency. It employs many hardworking people across the region who have given so much to assist you in building such a reputable brand in my city”

The consequences of the closure of Knight & Lee could be severe for our city’s shopping streets. 

127 people and their families rely on the business for work and many of the independent shops on Palmerston Road and the surrounding area benefit from the footfall generated by the business.

Mr. Morgan has said:

Southsea is famous for its vibrant, flourishing independent shops, many of which rely on the footfall generated by Knight & Lee. We must persevere and reach a solution that suits Southsea.”

In addition to writing to all the stakeholders, Mr. Morgan felt it necessary to ask the Prime Minister directly about what she will do to protect stores like Knight & Lee on our city’s high streets.

Today, during Prime Minister’s questions, Stephen Morgan MP asked Theresa May what she would do to help stores like Knight & Lee. His question raised the important wider issue of the decline in the high street and the effect that this is having on Portsmouth and the nation.

Mr. Morgan today asked the Prime Minister:

“Unlike this government, John Lewis has never Knowingly undersold Portsmouth. But last week partners announced they are closing Knight & Lee, a much-loved store in the heart of my community since 1865. And that’s just one example.

Retailer after retailer, store after store, job after job, when will the government finally bring our high streets back from the brink?”

Afterwards, Mr. Morgan told colleagues:

“My grandparents visited that Knight & Lee; my parents visited that Knight & Lee and I have used it frequently. It is a great shame that future generations will not get to do the same. I will ensure that I continue to work with other stakeholders to ensure that whatever comes next, is in the interests of the people of Portsmouth.”

Theresa May’s response did not address the wider issue of the struggles faced by the High Street and simply addressed the closure of the individual store.

The Prime Minister said that: “It’s a commercial decision for the company to take.”

This does nothing to address the wider issues that led to the closure of the store and the fact that her government has no new money set aside to support the success of the high street is indicative of their attitudes towards the problem.

Mr. Morgan said:

“The fact that this government is not even willing to invest any new money in saving the high street is highly worrying. Jobs and livelihoods are at stake.

That’s why we have a 5-point plan for supporting the High Street.”

Labour have set out a 5-point plan to combat the decline of the high street in an attempt avoid future scenarios like the closure of the much -cherished Knight & Lee. The plan includes; free travel for under 25s, a strategy for keeping bank branches open, free public Wi-Fi, a ban on ATM charges and significantly, a reassessment of business rates.

About Labour’s 5 point plan the Portsmouth MP said:

“We as a party are committed to saving our high streets. The 5-point plan put forward incentivises people to visit the high street, it’s a serious response to a serious issue. Importantly, it also is not revamped, recycled funds that will have no effect.”

Stephen Morgan MP has said he is committed to continuing to work with others to ensure that the new developments at the Knight & Lee site are in the interests of Portsmouth. He is currently waiting for a response from That Group where he requested a meeting and from John Lewis regarding the prospect of the opening of a ‘Click & Collect’.

The Portsmouth MP stated:

“This cannot be another nail in the coffin for Palmerston Road. Knight & Lee has been an anchor store for decades. Bringing people locally and further afield to our area, we musn’t let this business decision rip the heart of Southsea and effect the independent stores Southsea is famous for. I will continue to press ministers and the shadow team for action. We need action, and we need it fast”.