When we set out to publish an alternative review of the high street we all had one thing in mind. We wanted to start a conversation about change and kick-start a different debate about the future of the high street.

When we set out to publish an alternative review of the high street we all had one thing in mind. We wanted to start a conversation about change and kick-start a different debate about the future of the high street.

That much has happened since we launched the Grimsey Review last month, and the dialogue to look at new models for our town centres and different ways of using the high street is well under way.

We’ve spoken to leading entrepreneurs, think tanks, local authorities, Government ministers and opposition frontbenchers. I’ve spoken at political conferences - a first for me - and seen our efforts to raise the profile of business rates and highlight the damage they’re doing push this issue firmly up the political agenda.

So much so that the leader of the Labour party made it a key part of his recent conference speech. Let’s hope this now encourages an arms race to develop better business rates policies from all main parties.

Small businesses have got in touch with our team to say how much our review resonated with them. Aside from resistance from big companies to the proposed one-off levy to raise funds to support Town Centre Commissions, the feedback has mostly been positive.

Sainsbury’s boss Justin King wrote to me to say he didn’t like the levy and would prefer the Government to use the billions it received from business rates more effectively. I don’t disagree.

Clearly there are those that still think the high street can survive carrying on as it is. Sadly, all the evidence proves conclusively otherwise. Radical change is desperately needed.

Local authorities must set an objective to repopulate high streets as community hubs encompassing more housing, education, arts, entertainment, business/office space, health and leisure - and some shops.

They must also embrace technology with a “wired town” vision or “networked high streets” that put libraries and other public spaces at the centre of each community using technology that exists today and that of the future if our towns are to become fit for the 21st century.

Vacancy rates remain constant at about 14% and the picture in the Northwest, for example, is very different - more than 30% of units are boarded up in Morecambe.

More than 40,000 shops remain empty across the country. For those enjoying success on the high street today or those self-proclaimed retail champions that deny the facts, it is time for the deliberating to stop and action to start.

There is much to do, but the first priority must be to get a better deal on business rates if we’re to avoid more small retailers failing in the immediate future.

We have launched a Downing Street e-petition for business rates reform and, as I write, we’ve had more than 500 signatures in just two weeks. We need many more if we are to persuade backbench MPs to force a debate in Parliament ahead of the Chancellor’s autumn statement. Visit epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/54748 and help bring about change today.

We are exploring the possibility of Grimsey Review pilots and in the coming weeks we’ll meet with the new minister with responsibility for the high street, Brandon Lewis.

We will keep making the argument for better high street policy and, where possible, be the change we wish to see.

  • Bill Grimsey is the former chief executive of Wickes, Iceland and Focus and is the author of Sold Out: Who Really Killed the High Street?