Calls have been made for business levies to be slashed as figures reveal the North East has the highest rate of empty shops in the country.
A report by the Local Data Company shows one in five shops in the region stand empty, while vacancy rates in other parts of the country have started to fall.
The shop vacancy rate stands at 13.3% nationally, while in the North East the same figure is 18.8%.
This stands in contrast to the North West, which formerly had the highest rate but is now at 16.8%.
There is also a North-South divide. The North East, North West and West Midlands all have shop vacancy rates double London’s. On average 1 in 10 shops lie empty in the south whilst in the north the figure is one in five.
Simon Hanson, North East Development Manager for the Federation of Small Businesses, says the Government must strengthen its commitment to the region’s high streets, arguing the strategy so far had been ineffective.
It comes as the region sees a rise in the number of out-of-town shopping complexes.
Mr Hanson said: “These figures demonstrate the real challenges that many local high streets continue to face across the North East.
“This despite the number of reviews that have been conducted including the Portas Review where funding has been given to some local communities in the region and initiatives like Small Business Saturday.
“We need to see a sustained effort to support local high streets and not just focus on one day in December.
“Through our Keep Trade Local campaign we have pushed for local authorities to support high streets by being flexible on car parking arrangements and understanding the real issues that many face.”
He also called on North East councils to offer shopkeepers business rates relief, with shop owners in County Durham and Darlington said to be struggling the most.
He said: “The biggest issue that many of our members raise who are based on the high street is the high cost of business rates and the inflexibility of some local authorities to support them.
“In some areas we have seen business rates rise higher than rents which is unacceptable. If local authorities are serious about supporting high streets more needs to be done to get the appropriate business rates reliefs to eligible businesses. Too often we’re still hearing that this isn’t the case across the region.
“One of the easiest ways to help tackle the impact of spending cuts across the North East is to buy local. We know that this keeps at least 60p in the pound in local areas meaning more high streets have a chance.”