Portas! Part Deux

Well it beat Christmas shopping.

I spent part of last week reading the full version of the Mary Portas Review, rather than simply the 28 recommendations and press coverage. In my quick comment I wondered if there was much “meat” in the main report, and now I have read it, I am unconvinced that there is. That is not to say that there aren’t good things, but rather that the response of the Government and then local agencies etc will be fundamental.

So what came across in the main report?

1. The style of the report is really interesting. It is a good read, though does tend to overdue the “I” word and is a refreshing alternative to the dull official and (yes, guilty as charged) academic reports we so often see. Other than some jarring references  – why did she have to refer to Westfield (I am sure you can work it out) – it is quite smooth and won’t take you long.

2. But in that style there lies a problem. And that is that there are no solutions here. It comes over as high level and with some ideas, but the practicality of the implementation of all these is left to others. There is almost no recognition of the complexity of what is being asked and the alignment of willpower that is needed to cut through things.

3. There is though welcome recognition that one size does not fit all and that local areas have to get their own acts together. She is not in the blame game – to some extent – but the ideas she puts forward do implicitly point the finger at the way in which we think of high streets and town management. But what powers will “town teams” really have – for example to veto shop uses in high streets – and how will all this funding and operational lines fit together? Not beyond the wit of man – or woman – but not as easy as a two line recommendation.

4. There is also for me a disconnect in some of the lines of thought. We need to bring people and uses back to high streets. Fine, so why focus on only the retail decentralisation that has happened? There is mention of offices briefly, but if we are serious about returning uses then this has to include not only offices and shops, but also cinemas, restaurants, hotels, government agencies and even bingo halls! And in terms of people why is there only one mention of people living in town centers and the potential (long recognised and discussed but rarely actioned) for re-thinking the uses of upper floors in town centres? What financial incentives or reductions in costs can work here?

So this is all interesting and the strength lies perhaps in the force of personality of the author and the inside track she has to some bits of the government. That sense of championing the high street and the publicity that celebrity enjoys for a while may keep high streets on the agenda. And that is no bad thing. But the detail has to be in the Government’s response and the actions that have to follow from that.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Internationalisation and Graduate Studies.
This entry was posted in Government, High Streets, Mary Portas, Regulation, Retail Policy, Town Centres and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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