Mary Portas reveals 28 recommendations in her high street review #portasreview #indieretail

This morning the eagerly anticipated #portasreview was delivered to Whitehall by Mary Portas, TV’s Queen of Shops. The full report can be found on www.bis.gov.uk. There has been much cynicism about this report – many thinking it’s a waste of time, others hoping it will be the magic pill. The fact is there are 28 recommendations – some very interesting, others old news, all based on 7 months of detailed research. Let’s look at each of those 28 recommendations, one by one…

Mary Portas High Street Review – 28 Recommendations

Each numbered item is the summary from Mary Portas’ full high street review, the sub-bullet is my thought on each element. This is my gut reaction. I also have some thoughts that aren’t here, I’ll include those on a seperate blog…

  1. Put in place a “Town Team”: a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets
    1. Sounds a great plan – giving the high street the co-ordinated resource and support that those who trade from a shopping centre get by virtue of the centre management.
  2. Empower successful Business Improvement Districts to take on more responsibilities and powers and become “Super-BIDs”
    1. I’m a fan of BIDs and those who have been successful should get the opportunity to extend their reach and deliver greater benefits to the local communities which they support
  3. Legislate to allow landlords to become high street investors by contributing to their Business Improvement District
    1. Clearly those who own property in an area have a vested interest in that property enjoying full occupancy. Their future rental revenues depend on their past occupancy history, thus this is a logical progression.
  4. Establish a new “National Market Day” where budding shopkeepers can try their hand at operating a low-cost retail business
    1. This makes sense for towns where a market place exists, and for new retail entrepreneurs / start-ups. However, in a similar vein, pop-up-shops and easy access to trial leases in vacant premises should support more businesses in determining their viability as a single day is unlikely to be sufficient to really allow new entrants to assess if they have a consumer proposition that will work.
  5. Make it easier for people to become market traders by removing unnecessary regulations so that anyone can trade on the high street unless there is a valid reason why not
    1. Sensible, but mindful that market traders should synergise, not compete, with existing retailers in a location – so if for example there is a health food shop on the high street the last thing they need is a lower-cost health food stall opening up right outside!
  6. Government should consider whether business rates can better support small businesses and independent retailers
    1. This is OLD NEWS – we’ve been hearing about the impact of business rates on SMEs and Indie Retail for a long time now – Clearly welcomed inclusion, but frankly the government DO already know this; maybe now (at last) as they’ve heard it from all sides they may actually act to do something about it?!
  7. Local authorities should use their new discretionary powers to give business rate concessions to new local businesses
    1. A great concept, I’d have been a bit more forceful e.g. in areas identified as having the most significant issues (high vacancy rates for example) then local authorities should be obliged to implement actions which enable a positive improvement. They should have targets and timescales set and be empowered to do what it takes to drive sustainable change that benefits the local community through improved employment levels and a more stable economy. Perhaps I’m dreaming, but my belief is that each local community has needs from it’s high street, those needs may not be for retail, but a strong and vibrant heart of a community makes for a better life for those people living there!
  8. Make business rates work for business by reviewing the use of the RPI with a view to changing the calculation to CPI
    1. Again, business rates need to be closely reviewed to ensure fairness for all but not to prove prohibitive to businesses.
  9. Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table
    1. Parking needs to be addressed, this isn’t new news either, it’s a fact that accessibility  of town centres is impaired by lack of available parking / high cost of parking making out of town centres more attractive. BUT in some areas the community depend on public transport and their local town centre, so parking isn’t the only issue…
  10. Town Teams should focus on making high streets accessible, attractive and safe
    1. Yes. 100% agree – and I’d add to that, Town teams should focus on making high streets relevant for the communities that they serve. Each town has it’s unique features and each community has it’s unique needs.
  11. Government should include high street deregulation as part of their ongoing work on freeing up red tape
    1. Any removal of red tape has got to be good!
  12. Address the restrictive aspects of the ‘Use Class’ system to make it easier to change the uses of key properties on the high street
    1. This will be necessary for the high street to evolve to meet the needs and wants of the current and future communities they serve.
  13. Put betting shops into a separate ‘Use Class’ of their own
    1. An option… but what’s then done with that use class will actually be the key point.
  14. Make explicit a presumption in favour of town centre development in the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework
    1. My belief is that there should be no specific favouritism and that planning should be there to provide developments that support the current and future needs of the communities that they serve. I would favour treatment on a case by case basis and consideration of the holistic community impacts as opposed to some kind of positive discrimination towards town centre (or, as one may read into that, away from out of town) as it is surely a needs based assessment that makes most sense.
  15. Introduce Secretary of State “exceptional sign off ” for all new out-of-town developments and require all large new developments to have an “affordable shops” quota
    1. As above, I am not sure putting barriers up for other sectors is helpful; if the consumers’ needs and wants indicate that the high street in an area should be re-purposed (more local lifestyle features such as entertainment, library, day care, service based industry, internet order collection points…) and that an out of town retail development is relevant, then surely what matters most is delivering what is needed to support consumer demand.
  16. Large retailers should support and mentor local businesses and independent retailers
    1. That should be up to the businesses themselves to decide! If you are a large retailer and you’ve only ever had a “job” there is NO WAY you’ll be able to deliver the kind of support, mentoring and advice that a business owner needs! This sounds like an ill thought-out “do good” proposal! I for one had the BIGGEST learning experience of my life when I came out of employment with large retailers to having to run my own business – the enormity of being a business owner compared to the challenges of holding down a senior management position as an employee are POLES APART and this is perhaps a bit of “fluffy” nonsense that simply won’t work in practice!
  17. Retailers should report on their support of local high streets in their annual report
    1. Again I would challenge this – why should they? Major retailers are either large private limited companies or PLCs – they answer to shareholders in the main. They have no obligation or duty to the high street and it seems rather unreasonable to specify that this sort of content should be in their reports. Some, who have a high street presence, may choose to do so, but I don’t feel any retailer should be obligated to do so.
  18. Encourage a contract of care between landlords and their commercial tenants by promoting the leasing code and supporting the use of lease structures other than upward only rent reviews, especially for small businesses
    1. Agree with this point, upward only rent review has been the destruction of some smaller retailers.
  19. Explore further disincentives to prevent landlords from leaving units vacant
    1. Agree that landlords should be encouraged to let premises but if there is simply no demand then penalising the landlord only creates more pain for them when they are already NOT getting return on their vacant premises and are paying rates. Most landlords would welcome full occupancy and surely the earlier point, to include landlords in the involvement in regenerating specific areas is a more proactive approach than penalising them further when many are already suffering.
  20. Banks who own empty property on the high street should either administer these assets well or be required to sell them
    1. Why? If they are paying their leases and they choose to leave the premises vacant I really don’t see how anyone should be allowed to dictate what they do with the property! It’s in their interests to make the property productive in any case.
  21. Local authorities should make more proactive use of Compulsory Purchase Order powers to encourage the redevelopment of key high street retail space
    1. Maybe… but again surely it makes more sense to encourage the property owners to get behind the redevelopment as fundamentally that’s in their interest!
  22. Empower local authorities to step in when landlords are negligent with new “Empty Shop Management Orders”
    1. Tread with care… define negligent?! This is a mine field and you can’t wave a magic wand and create tenants…
  23. Introduce a public register of high street landlords
    1. If a private individual owns high street property as a private investment why should their details be made public? There are risks around this as a considerable amount of retail space is privately owned. Perhaps this should only apply where the property is owned by an organisation and not an individual.
  24. Run a high profile campaign to get people involved in Neighbourhood Plans
    1. The neighbourhood should always be involved in plans which affect their area
  25. Promote the inclusion of the High Street in Neighbourhood Plans
    1. If the high street serves the neighbourhood then this goes without saying…
  26. Developers should make a financial contribution to ensure that the local community has a strong voice in the planning system
    1. Yes; and there is a positive benefit to developers in engaging the support of the local community early on in any case!
  27. Support imaginative community use of empty properties through Community Right to Buy, Meanwhile Use and a new “Community Right to Try”
    1. Maybe; but I am concerned about the impact on struggling landlords – it feels a lot of burden is placed on them in these recommendations and not strictly on how retailers can collaborate to create the upward spiral of footfall and sales conversions that they need to survive on the high street!
  28. Run a number of High Street Pilots to test proof of concept
    1. 100% agree – and the pilots should be done in very different areas to test the concepts with different demographics, formats and regions.

To wrap up, there are some great ideas here and some that make me nervous. I am nervous about pushing the problem up the “food chain” to landlords and I am nervous about over legislating and creating an unsustainable, irrelevant high street…

I look forward to reading the government’s response in the Spring of 2012.

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About Clare Bailey

Clare Bailey, The Retail Champion (formerly Clare Rayner), is one of the most well-known and respected retail experts in the UK. With unrivalled knowledge in retail, high streets and consumer matters, she offers unbiased, independent content – whether engaged as a professional speaker, for broadcast media, or for a written feature. Clare is a business woman, entrepreneur and founder of several small businesses. Having been born into a family of successful business owners, it was inevitable that she’d eventually jump off the corporate treadmill and step out on her own! Today her brand portfolio includes The Retail Champion, The Retail Conference, the Future High Street Summit and the Support for Independent Retail campaign. In addition, she is co-founder of Mobaro Retail UK and a non-exec director of Beed Virtual Assistant Services. Having started her career as a fast-track store management trainee for McDonalds, she went on to work with leading retailers such as M&S, Dixons and Argos. She moved swiftly into management roles before being headhunted into senior consulting roles with global software giant SAP, and international management consulting brand, Accenture. Her corporate background in senior retail, consulting and technology roles, coupled with her experience of creating and running her own business, has enabled her to be equally capable whether consulting to global brands or micro businesses. This unique blend has not only positioned her as a leading expert in all things retail, but has enabled her to add meaningful commentary and insight to the debate around the future of the high street, and, how technology is driving fundamental change in the way consumers, and businesses, interact. Clare has become an influential voice in her field, which has resulted in her becoming a regular media contributor and sought-after conference speaker. Often seen on Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, Sky News, and Chanel 5 (to name a few), Clare speaks on a myriad of retail, high street and consumer issues – but is particular adept when it comes to explaining the context behind retail trading results, newly released data, and government stats, in a palatable and informative manner. In addition to broadcast and conference speaking, Clare is the proud author of two best-selling business books published by Kogan Page - The Retail Champion: 10 Steps to Retail Success, published July 2012 and How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market, published February 2013. She has provided contributions to various academic texts, including Retail Marketing Management (published by Pearson). With an engaging, conversational yet informative style, Clare writes for press and content agencies, providing features, articles, blogs and opinion pieces as well as contributions to white papers and reports. However, when the situation demands a more serious style, Clare can deliver - In 2016 she wrote an extensive report for a major insurance and risk law firm, as a retail expert witness, to support a public liability suit. She found that project particularly enjoyable as it played well to her strengths – assimilating large amounts of data and information, identifying the key points and articulating that in an understandable manner. When not on TV or speaking at conferences, Clare’s “day job” sees her supporting consumer-facing businesses through her consultancy services. When asked to describe what she most loves about retail consulting it is typically the opportunity to “dig deep”, getting “under the bonnet”, in order to leverage the business data to uncover the insights that lead to “lightbulb moments”. She also loves working on business change programmes that centre on improving the processes and systems to increase profitability by supporting more rapid, better informed decision making, improving the customer experience, or simply by become more efficient and streamlined. In this respect she considers herself a “business engineer” with a brain that works like a relational database! Due to her years of experience, her logical, objective approach, her quick, rational thinking, she is known for being able to cut through complexity, seeing right through to the crux of issues, finding creative solutions that others may have overlooked. As if all that wasn’t enough, Clare is a working mum, juggling a home life in rural Lincolnshire with her partner, their 5 kids, 4 cats, and geriatric Labrador! For all enquiries, contact Clare directly on 01727 238890 or email champion@retailchampion.co.uk.
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3 Responses to Mary Portas reveals 28 recommendations in her high street review #portasreview #indieretail

  1. Pingback: The multichannel consumer experience – the missing element of #portasreview? | Clare Rayner: The Retail Champion

  2. Will Baxter says:

    Upward-only rent reviews are only tolerated in the UK. No other european country allows them. UK ruinous commercial lease law destroyed all the small businesses and retailers.

  3. Pingback: The multichannel consumer experience – the missing element of #portasreview? | CTS Blog

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