As Andy Street enters the running to be mayor of the West Midlands, it might be worth him – and his rivals – dusting off The Grimsey Review.
In his speech to the Tory conference last weekend, Street set out his vision for his native West Midlands – to make it once again “the regional economic powerhouse of Britain”.
Drawing upon the founding principles of John Lewis, he talked of the need for a partnership in the area where “everybody shares the fruits of economic progress”.
Turbo-charging the West Midlands will depend not just on the success of manufacturing or the HS2 rail link, but on the success of the retailers that create employment and are frequently at the heart of communities. Street and John Lewis have already played their part through involvement in schemes such as Grand Central.
But could revisiting Bill Grimsey’s high-street review help take things further? The former Wickes and Focus DIY boss’s study was published in 2013, but its ideas were never really adopted in a concerted way in the UK.
“Street and Labour-supporting Grimsey may be at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but their shared enthusiasm for enterprise may mean there is some common ground on good ideas to lift parts of the West Midlands that are at present down in the dumps”
Not so elsewhere. Across the North Sea, in the Belgian city of Roeselare, many of the proposals have been implemented and the results so far look impressive.
The intention was to reinvigorate the retail offer to restore Roeselare’s endangered status as a shopping destination. The changes have brought benefits such as the return of big retail names to the city centre.
Two things were at the heart of the project’s success, Grimsey points out: the clever use of technology, such as a town centre app that makes visiting easy for shoppers and promotes businesses; and political will.
That will was embodied in the local mayor, who determinedly drove through change. Should he win, Street, who has overseen John Lewis’s drive into omnichannel, also brings insight about the benefits of new tech.
Street and Labour-supporting Grimsey may be at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but their shared enthusiasm for enterprise may mean there is some common ground on good ideas to lift parts of the West Midlands that are at present down in the dumps.
Preparing for Brexit
Prime Minister Theresa May will trigger Article 50 and begin formal Brexit renegotiations by March next year.
So far, despite initial fears, retail performance has held up since the EU referendum result.
Speaking at Retail Week’s CFOs’ summit a couple of weeks ago, HSBC chief economist Mark Beresford-Smith maintained that the market “won’t fall off a cliff”, but it will slow and “the ultimate effect will be a softening of consumer sentiment”.
If that’s the worst that things get, retailers that are well prepared to ride out turbulence should be able to navigate ups and downs to come.
Winners, Beresford-Smith thought, will be investing in their people and in innovation.