The government’s response to the Mary Portas review includes positive steps but fails to live up to her bigger ambition to revitalise the UK’s high streets.
So said the British Retail Consortium as the government announced that it would accept virtually all of the 28 recommendations put forward by the retail guru.
Housing Minister Grant Shapps said the government would be creating a £10m fund to return empty shops to use and a National Markets Day to encourage entrepreneurs and attract more visitors to town centres. The government will also establish a £500,000 fund for Business Improvement Districts to help town centres access loans.
“I’m accepting virtually all of the recommendations from Mary Portas’ review,” Shapps said, “but I’m also going that one step further, offering a ‘Portas Plus’ deal with a range of measures designed to help local people turn their high streets into the beating hearts of their communities once again.
“Mary Portas’ review made crystal clear the stark challenge our high streets face. With internet shopping and out-of-town centres here to stay, they must offer something new if they’re to entice visitors back.”
The government will also be considering the abolition of centrally-set minimum parking charges, and “Portas Pilots”, whereby town centres nationwide are chosen to trial some of Mary Portas’ ideas, will also be extended following on from the success of the first 12.
However, several of Portas’ key recommendations have not been accepted by the government. These include changing the way in which business rates are calculated from using the retail price index to the consumer price index, and requiring new out-of-town developments to have an exceptional sign-off from the Secretary of State.
The BRC welcomed the latter’s rejection by the government, the fund for Business Improvement Districts and the reduction of some red tape.
“But the government’s plan lacks the bold vision which is needed to make a significant difference,” it said. “It proposes projects with around £11.5m of funding attached at a time when retailers are having to find an extra £350m because of a 5.6% rise in business rates.
“We’re concerned the government hasn’t yet matched [Portas’] level of ambition with its response.”