The Government’s new Future High Streets Forum, co-chaired by Alliance Boots’ health and beauty boss Alex Gourlay, met for the first time today to attempt to plot a course for the high street’s recovery.

The forum, which is also co-chaired by local growth minister Mark Prisk, aims to help boost struggling high streets which are suffering as a result of a combination of factors including the economic downturn and customers’ move to online shopping.

Civic and business leaders across retail, property and hospitality sectors met for the first time today. They included representatives of Boots, John Lewis, Tesco, Vodafone, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), the British Property Federation and the Association of Town and City Managers (ACTM).

Prisk said: “Over the last year this Government has worked hard to help boost the high street, including initiatives to simplify planning, revamp the public realm, cut the business rate burden and revive local markets.

“Now, the Future High Streets Forum will take a joint the lead in driving forward these initiatives and providing the strategic leadership needed to analyse the competition and tackle the difficult problems which conventional high streets need to address.”

But Paul Turner-Mitchell, the retail expert who recently exposed the lack of spending associated with the Portas Pilots and High Street Innovation Fund said: “I know Mark Prisk is new to this role but he seems completely out of touch with what’s going on at the coalface.

“How can he boast of cutting the business rate burden when his Government has increased business rates by over £500million for high street retailers in the last two years?

“And to talk of progress where the Portas Pilots and High Street Innovation Fund is concerned takes Government spin to new levels.”

Prisk said discussions at the meeting centred around how to speed up the mentoring programme established following self-styled retail guru Mary Portas’ High Street Review released last year. They also looked at how better use could be made of empty buildings, how they can support the growth of initiatives such as pop-up shops and local parking.

Prisk wants to offer Town Teams workshops, secondments and mentoring from over 30 organisations, including the British Council of Shopping Centres, the ACS and the British Parking Association. They will provide advice and training on every aspect of the high street, from retail and tourism to the night time economy, public space design and age-accessibility.

The ACTM has been appointed to deliver a £1m mentor support package to the 27 Portas Pilots and 330 town teams over two years.