The new minister for the high street Brandon Lewis has insisted that UK high streets are “absolutely a priority” for the Government.
Lewis, conservative MP for Great Yarmouth and parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Communities and Local Government, was handed the Government high street remit this week, replacing housing minister Mark Prisk who was sacked amid a Government reshuffle.
Some retail observers have expressed fears that the Government’s decision to give a junior minister the high street remit signalled that town centre regeneration was slipping down the agenda in Whitehall. Prisk was a minister of state, as was his predecessor Grant Shapps, now chairman of the Conservative Party, when he held responsibility for the high streets.
However Lewis maintained: “I think it’s a logical fit. I already have business rates [within my responsibilities] and that’s a key issue for the high street.”
Lewis has also replaced Prisk as the co-chair for the Future High Street Forum, set up to develop the work begun by Mary Portas. He said he will be leading the scheduled Forum visit to Bedford next Monday where Portas is set to join them.
Lewis pushed through the Government decision to controversially delay the business rates revaluation from 2015 to 2017 which means retailers will continue to pay rates based on 2008’s pre-recession rents for an additional two years.