Junior minister Brandon Lewis has been given responsibility for the high street after Mark Prisk’s sacking, prompting fears the Government is not taking town centre regeneration seriously.
Lewis, who was appointed parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Department for Communities and Local Government in September 2012, takes over from former minister of state for housing and local government Mark Prisk who departed yesterday.
Lewis has been a key figure in the business rates debate and recommended that the revaluation be delayed for two years to 2017. The Government has now implemented this delay, which has caused controversy among the retail sector because it will mean retailers will be paying business rates based on pre-recession rents or another two years.
Prisk’s predecessor Grant Shapps, now chairman of the Conservative Party, was also minister of state when he held responsibility for the high streets.
Independent retailer Paul Turner-Mitchell, a member of the team that put together the Grimsey Review into the high street, said: “To move the remit to a junior minister does beg the question of whether they are taking it seriously.”
As part of the reshuffle, Kris Hopkins, Conservative MP for Keighley in West Yorkshire, has joined the Department for Communities and Local Government as an undersecretary of state. His responsibilities will include housing, local growth, cities and regeneration.
The outlook for the Future High Street Forum was called into question following the departure of Prisk, who was the co-chair of the committee. The Forum, which was set up six months ago in response to Mary Portas’ review of the high street, lost its other co-chair, former Alliance Boots health and beauty chief executive Alex Gourlay, after he took up a new role at Alliance Boots’ merger partner, US drugstore Walgreens, this month.