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Mary Portas’s high-street review: John Timpson responds

3 Mins

Mary Portas has done no harm with her report on what she calls “the High Street crisis”. And she might have done a bit of good. 

It must help to have someone batting on behalf of shopkeepers but I don’t expect her 28 recommendations to make a lot of difference.

The high street is always changing. Well over half the well known names from the 1960s have disappeared. Do you remember John Collier, MacFisheries, C&A, Radio Rentals and Timothy Whites? 

I am willing to bet that some of the famous names of the next two decades are opening their first shops right now, in the middle of this recession.

There were plenty of boarded up shops and empty sites 50 years ago as shoppers abandoned their local suburb for the city centre. Now we are moving out of town. 

We have always had too many shops, but good retailers and our central shopping centres will survive.

Until recently, you could pile the blame on property people. High rents perpetuated by upwards-only rent reviews meant that a lot of shopkeepers were, in truth, working for the landlord. But the last three years have set the rental records straight. Lease renewals have suddenly become a joy with rent free periods, capital contributions and some amazing rent reductions.

I know it sounds pretty obvious but what shopping centres need is lots of good retailers who give great customer service and provide what people want. Rules and regulations can’t create a street full of quality shops but rule makers can put ridiculous obstacles in their way. 

So I would simply concentrate on the regulations that handicap talented retailers and stop shoppers shopping.

Here are my top five action points:

  1. Put car park charges back to the level in force ten years ago (in many areas you can put the drop in footfall down to the day car park costs went up).
  2. Sack the jobsworth security staff and superintendents who wander round town inventing rules on behalf of the local council. (Why should I have to pay for any of the sandwich boards we put outside our shops?) 
  3. Force civil servants from the Treasury to spend a month doing the paperwork on behalf of a small shopkeeper. That way they might start to understand what harm is done by red tape.
  4. Scrap any rules handed over from Europe that defy common sense. (Let’s start with the working time directive and silly shaped bananas).
  5. Ban street traders who pay little or no rent (like the key cutter who camps outside our shop in Hoddesden) and stop erecting temporary stalls within a few feet of our shop window (especially in Tamworth). 

I don’t need government grants or a new quango set up to plan local shopping. I would prefer to be left alone but it is reassuring to know that Ms Portas is on our side.

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