Bill Grimsey’s report adds to many of the elements raised by the Portas Pilot Review and introduces new ideas for an alternative future for our High Streets.

Bill Grimsey’s report adds to many of the elements raised by the Portas Pilot Review and introduces new ideas for an alternative future for our High Streets.

I love some of them - many of his 31 recommendations make sense, are credible and deserving of support – at local, regional and national levels. Community hubs, long-term planning that links all interests, public meetings, review of the business rates system including relief given to charities – all good.

I disagree with others: I wouldn’t trust councils to manage a business start-up fund created from a levy on company sales. I don’t agree with giving away free parking. I wouldn’t enforce change of use on empty properties – and I certainly don’t think you can legislate for Mall owners to create space for market stall pitches.

Others require greater debate and understanding – but the appointment of a Town & City Centre Minister would certainly maintain the focus and ensure the High Street’s voice is heard in the cabinet.

Mary’s review stumbled because there was a disconnect. As she told the Select Committee for the Department for Communiteis and Local Government, when she heard the Government “welcomed” her recommendations, she believed that meant an endorsement. Sadly not – and Mary now accepts that she was politically naïve.

Bill’s review contains very big ideas that, to enact, will require not just a step change from the Government’s current position, but a universal leap. His recommendations are more business focused but rely on those same Government bodies to listen, agree, spend time, money and huge resource – and see things through over the life of the next three to four parliaments. 

Governments are seldom known for their innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. Over recent years, national Government claims to have empowered local Government. Local Government’s retort is that it has been squeezed until the pips come out. I don’t see any sudden change in that knock-about relationship.

Governments dating back decades have talked of urban regeneration. It isn’t going to happen. Not today. Not tomorrow. For towns and cities to thrive and survive, each much step up to the task, listen to their communities, engage with them – and support those businesses that choose to invest in them.

Work I‘ve undertaken with marketing firm DestinationCMS has focused on what can be done ‘now’ - digital and social media engagement at a grass roots level to engage with residents, visitors, businesses, charities, schools, stakeholders – connecting each community – 365 days of the year. 

Both Mary and Bill touched on technology. It is at the very heart of the opportunity – and I hope their combined passion will spark others to realise that our high streets are far from dead – and that digital engagement and interaction between all interested parties will make the biggest, simplest, fastest and most positive difference.

Simon Baldwin is a retail expert, director at Mall-to-Mobile: DestinationCMS and one of the Government-appointed mentors for the Portas Pilots as part of the Portas Review.