CONGRATULATIONS to Stockton, which last week beat hundreds of rival bidders for a share of the Government’s high street transformation fund.

The announcement follows retail queen Mary Portas’ review of town centre shopping.

Stockton, which has the highest proportion of empty shops of any town in the North-East, was one of 12 Portas Pilot towns chosen from 370 applicants.

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Among the ideas which secured funding are plans to employ street entertainers and for modern-day town criers to patrol the streets.

Any support is welcome as our ailing high streets slug it out for custom with the big retail parks, but the cash awards – of about £100,000 to each town – are derisory and unlikely to have any lasting impact.

If the Coalition was serious about addressing the problem they should hand out major funding or tax breaks, while local authorities could also lend a hand by relaxing car parking charges in town centres.

Instead David Cameron turned to Ms Portas, who made a name for herself as a professional window dresser. An appropriate ally for a scheme that backs style over substance.

SO Chancellor George Osborne finally crumbled and tore up plans to hike duty on static caravans and pull the hated pasty tax, which had brought North-East protestors to the streets of London.

Fair play to Mr Osborne I say, it’s a brave man who accepts he has made a mistake and misjudged the public mood.

However, Shadow Treasury Minister, the appropriately named Lord Eatwell, claimed the decision to exempt hot takeaway food from VAT as long as it’s cooling naturally, will add £110m to the deficit. Labour branded the U-turns a shambles. You can’t please some people.

The problem with the Chancellor’s display of common sense means he is now facing fresh calls from charity campaigners who are demanding yet another Budget rewrite.

Higher rate taxpayers donating to a charity can reclaim more than half of the income tax they have paid on the money without limit.

From April, they will only be able to reclaim tax on donations up to £50,000 per year, or a quarter of the individual’s income, whichever is higher. Ministers say the change will curb abuse of the tax system but charities fear it will cost them millions of pounds.

Tory insiders reckon a third U-turn could be on the cards in the autumn statement to exempt charities that demonstrate benefit in the UK while cracking down on payments to foreign charities.

ANYONE want to buy half an airport?

Copenhagen Airports yesterday confirmed it wants to offload its 49 per cent holding in Newcastle International. Potential bidders are said to be circling and let’s hope this deal is concluded as soon as possible. At a time when Durham Tees Valley Airport is attempting to fight back, the last thing we need is uncertainty dogging another of the region’s most important transport lifelines.