A butcher was told he could move his Sunderland shop to Newcastle to make it more ‘profitable’ after taking the team behind efforts to improve Sunderland’s businesses to task.
Robert Robson, who has worked in the city centre for around 20 years and owned Rob’s butchers for the last six, has hit out at the comments made via a Facebook exchange with the marketing manager of The Bridges.
But Samantha Czwordon-Wright says she was defending the work of Sunderland Business Improvement District and her comments do not reflect the views of the shopping centre or her role there.
The spat follows on from a long-running disagreement between the butcher - who ironically also owns a business in Newcastle city centre - and the BID as he believes The Bridges benefits most from the project in terms of cash and events.
The centre contributes £33,289 per year to the scheme, while Sunderland City Council offers a grant of £50,000 and Sunderland AFC adds £30,000 in marketing support, while businesses also pay a levy.
Mr Robson, who pays £30,000 annual rent for his butchers on Blandford Street plus a further £15,500 in rates and £3,000 for waste removal, has withheld his annual contribution on the basis he is yet to receive a breakdown of what its team members are paid and has said that BIDs “should not exist.”
I’m asking why the BID is promoting big businesses like those in The Bridges, and maybe they have contributed, but do they really need it?Robert Robson
During the course of the online exchange, the marketing manager told Mr Robson: “If you don’t know the facts - I suggest you don’t pluck accusations that the BID spends its budget on the Bridges when it does not.
“The frustrations you’re feeling working in Sunderland are not the BID’s fault.
“Why not move your business to a more profitable town or city?
“Newcastle is an example - has a BID which has been going for 12 years and it took a considerable amount of years to regenerate.
“The BID is not going to answer all of Sunderland’s problems in three years.
“They are, however, open to many suggestions - chuck a proposal together and I’m sure they’d happily look over it.”
Mr Robson said: “It’s hard work running your own business, I’m there from 6am until 6pm, seven days a week and the lady started getting quite personal.
“That’s fair enough to have your own opinions and make remarks, but then to tell me if I’m unhappy to move my own business to another town or city and ask me how tall I was, trying to insinuate I have small man syndrome.
“I’m asking why the BID is promoting big businesses like those in The Bridges, and maybe they have contributed, but do they really need it?
“It’s those who are outside who really need it.
“It’s taking it off the small independent retailers when they’re concerned with the large shopping centre.”
Mr Robson said after raising concerns with the BID’s leaders, he was offer marketing opportunities through the Experience Sunderland website and Facebook.
He added: “Somebody is not going to have a day out by going to buy a pork chop.”
Ms Czwordon-Wright said: “I am very passionate about Sunderland and fully support all initiatives to make the city more successful.
“This was an exchange of views that took place on social media through my personal account in response to what I considered unfair comments about the work of Sunderland BID.
“It was a personal reaction to remarks that I felt did not reflect the commitment and hard work being undertaken by many in the city.”
“My comments do not represent the views or the position of the Bridges and have no connection with my role at the centre.”
BID boss defends work of organisation
The boss of Sunderland BID has also moved to defend its work and its partnership with The Bridges.
The shopping centre’s director, Andy Bradley, who is the former BID chairman, worked with a team of staff alongside a board of directors on efforts to improve shops and other businesses, make the city centre safe, boost its night-time economy and give business leaders a voice. He was succeeded in 2014 by John Craggs.
Ken Dunbar, chief executive at Sunderland BID, said: “We would always encourage traders who have any concerns to come and talk to us, rather than engage in negative postings on social media.
“We have met with Mr Robson on at least two occasions to talk to him, listened to his concerns and suggested ways that he can capitalise on projects that the BID is delivering that will help to promote more successful trading on Blandford Street.
“He has made some suggestions to us about what he would like to see in the city centre - which includes free parking and free rates - but unfortunately these are not within our scope.
“Our accounts are open and transparent and my salary is in the public domain and is contained within the annual accounts.
“We are under no obligation to report the salaries of the other members of the BID team.
“The BID has a strong relationship with the Bridges and they work closely with us - we benefit greatly from the relationship because of what they give us in kind, which includes free advertising space.
“The Bridges does not get any advantage over any other business in the city centre from our initiatives and certainly does not receive any money from the BID.”