It was standing room only in Committee Room 9 in the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday morning.

It was standing room only in Committee Room 9 in the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday morning.

But it wasn’t phone hacking or the fate of the defence secretary that was had drawn the MPs, but an audience with Mary Portas.

She may divide opinion among retailers, but the turnout of MPs showed just how many people’s hopes are riding on the report she is going to file to the Prime Minister next month. Politicians of all colours and from all corners of the country were there and eager to tell the self-styled queen of shops about the problems faced by the high streets in their constituencies.

There is still some time to go before the report is filed. It’s important that it recognises that ultimately the consumer is arbiter of the success of the high street, and as the MP whose constituency covers Bluewater eloquently put it, nothing will be achieved if it seeks to help the high street by handicapping out-of-town retail.

But there are also indications that the review will put forward some positive and imaginative ideas for retail, while recognising that alternative uses will also need to play a part filling space retailers no longer need. Ideas such as Portas’ plan to give start-up retailers the same business rate relief enjoyed by charity shops is exactly the sort of innovative thinking that is required.

But the Portas review and other well-meaning initiatives will count for nothing if the costs of occupying retail property continue to soar. Convention dictates that September’s RPI figure is used to calculate the business rates rise the following April. This week we learnt that figure was 5.6%, which the BRC says would mean a £350m hike in retailers’ rate bills.

The consequences are so obvious they barely need spelling out. With so many stores struggling to make a profit as it is, a rise of that magnitude in rates bills will make the decision for many retailers to cut their losses on their less profitable stores. It’s not overstating it that it could be the death knell for some more marginal town centres.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. The annual RPI-linked increase is a convention, nothing more than that. We know pressure on the public purse is tight. But a smaller increase in rates is better than losing the rates income from a store that closes down because it’s not making money.

If the Government really cares about the high street, there would be no better way to show it than a lower-than-RPI increase in rates for retailers next year.