Here’s what the Portas review left out

Elizabeth Cox of nef argues that Mary Portas' review of the High Street makes many good suggestions, but misses out some curiously large targets


Elizabeth Cox is the head of local economies at nef (the new economics foundation)

Considering the dire straits our high streets currently find themselves in, Mary Portas’ review into their future made for surprisingly positive reading this morning.

Establishing once and for all that thriving town centres are key to rebuilding our economy is a vital step in the right direction.

We at nef (the new economics foundation) have been arguing that small, independent outlets are disproportionately beneficial to local economies for almost a decade.

Today’s review recognises this, setting out a variety of practical measures to encourage and support local businesses, from making it easier to reclaim vacant lots to an annual National Market Day.

Mary Portas shares our understanding that high streets should no longer merely be seen as places to shop, but somewhere for culture, leisure, learning and social opportunities. Her recommendations go a long way towards fulfilling that vision.

There are some notable omissions, however. Curiously the report was initially trailed as having at least thirty key recommendations, which then mysteriously dropped to 28 in the final version. We can’t say for sure what they were going to be, but we do have some suggestions:

29. Properly rein in the supermarkets

In the report itself, Portas identifies big retailers as a serious threat to the kind of diverse high streets we should be encouraging and protecting.

Having decimated local food markets over the last fifty years, there are ominous signs that supermarkets are set to cause even more damage to beleaguered high streets. More than a third of supermarkets’ floor space is now devoted to non-food sales, and particularly troubling is their sprawl into dentists’ and GP’s services – glue that holds our high streets together.

Given that this is acknowledged in the report itself, where are the calls to more stringently rein in big retailers? Those steps tentatively ventured by Portas do not go far enough: a moratorium on further edge and out of town supermarket developments would help, as would caps on store size and market share.

30. Establish a functioning local banking infrastructure

Something missed entirely by today’s review is the need for a local banking system to power the kind of local economies Portas clearly envisages.

nef’s work on finance and banking has repeatedly highlighted the unwillingness of big banks to lend to small businesses, regardless of how much extra money is pumped into the economy. For independent and small retailers to survive and thrive, they need a local banking system that understands and supports them.

31. Local high streets are good for the environment

We should be looking to reinvigorate the country’s high streets as part of our solution to the twin challenges of climate change and peak oil. The need to reduce our ever increasingly supply chains and begin living sustainably should be the most powerful argument for an economic revival of local areas.

See also:

Latest high street gloom shows urgent need for new planning system – Jonathan Schifferes, September 20th 2011

The High Street spiral of self-harm – Ann Pettifor, June 28th 2011

High and dry streets? – Jonathan Schifferes, June 17th 2011

Shocking news from the high street – Tony Dolphin, June 16th 2011

High streets should be transformed to benefit the community – Elizabeth Cox, February 16th 2011

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12 Responses to “Here’s what the Portas review left out”

  1. -

    Here's what the Portas review left out, writes @theneweconomics' Elizabeth Cox:

  2. Fred Garnett

    Here's what the Portas review left out, writes @theneweconomics' Elizabeth Cox:

  3. Political Planet

    Here’s what the Portas review left out: Elizabeth Cox of nef argues that Mary Portas' review of the High Street …

  4. Wendy Hibbs

    Here's what the Portas review left out, writes @theneweconomics' Elizabeth Cox:

  5. Judith Robertson

    Here's what the Portas review left out, writes @theneweconomics' Elizabeth Cox:

  6. NWL Unison

    Here's what the Portas review left out, writes @theneweconomics' Elizabeth Cox:

  7. Andrew Johnston

    Here's what the Portas review left out, writes @theneweconomics' Elizabeth Cox:

  8. Anonymous

    1. Put in place a “Town Team”: a visionary, strategic and strong
    operational management team for high streets

    In other words – local government has failed.

    2. Empower successful Business Improvement Districts to take on
    more responsibilities and powers and become “Super-BIDs”

    More quangos

    3. Legislate to allow landlords to become high street investors by
    contributing to their Business Improvement District

    So by buying property and letting it, you aren’t helping?

    4. Establish a new “National Market Day” where budding shopkeepers
    can try their hand at operating a low-cost retail business

    Puffery and spin

    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

    Yep. Government regulation is hampering lots of things.

    6. Government should consider whether business rates can better
    support small businesses and independent retailers

    Yep – taxation isn’t fair. People take all the risks, and do all
    the work, and government takes 50% of the profits, none of the losses.
    Not equitable is it.

    7. Local authorities should use their new discretionary powers to give
    business rate concessions to new local businesses

    How about just reducing business rates across the board. Otherwise, the
    tax angle is shut down the company, sell to a new one, and for the cost
    of a new sign, you have a lower rate bill

    8. Make business rates work for business by reviewing the use of the
    RPI with a view to changing the calculation to CPI

    See, RPI when it suits the government. CPI when it suits the government.
    The reason is taxation just to pay the massive debts, not services

    9. Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes
    that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking
    league table

    Parking is the major reason many high streets are screwed. Why go there
    and risk huge fines or even pay for parking, when you can go elsewhere?

    10. Town Teams should focus on making high streets accessible,
    attractive and safe

    So they haven’t been doing it? Yep, all that money for nothing.

    11. Government should include high street deregulation as part of
    their ongoing work on freeing up red tape

    Regulation – less jobs – more on the dole. Lower profits – less tax – more debt.

    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

    Yep – regulation again.

    13. Put betting shops into a separate ‘Use Class’ of their own

    Why? Aren’t they part of the highstreet?

    14. Make explicit a presumption in favour of town
    centre development in the wording of the National
    Planning Policy Framework

    Why? Just get government out of it, and let people loose.

    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

    Lots more corner shops charging high prices. A call for more rent seeking.

    16. Large retailers should support and mentor local
    businesses and independent retailers

    Pleeeezzeee. Another expense put onto firms, so prices go up.

    17. Retailers should report on their support of local
    high streets in their annual report

    More regulation

    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

    More regulation

    19. Explore further disincentives to prevent landlords
    from leaving units vacant

    Such as? Ah yes – subsidies.

    20. Banks who own empty property on the high street
    should either administer these assets well or be
    required to sell them

    To whom? How are the people buying them going to afford them?
    All the money in banks is going to the government because of its
    debts and the regulations mandating it.

    21. Local authorities should make more proactive use
    of Compulsory Purchase Order powers to encourage
    the redevelopment of key high street retail space

    Ah yes. The state will steal people’s property.
    Next on the list, all private and company pensions, for the
    public good. Just like Argentina, Hungary, partially in France
    and Ireland. Partially in the UK like Gordon Brown.

    It’s a kleptocracy.

    22. Empower local authorities to step in when
    landlords are negligent with new “Empty Shop
    Management Orders”

    More regulation.

    23. Introduce a public register of high street landlords

    More regulation and cost.

    24. Run a high proile campaign to get people involved
    in Neighbourhood Plans

    And what? Turn up to a planning meeting and its two fingers
    because they have already decided to give permission to their mates.

    25. Promote the inclusion of the High Street in
    Neighbourhood Plans

    More regulation

    26. Developers should make a inancial contribution to
    ensure that the local community has a strong voice
    in the planning system

    Ah yes. You have to bribe us first.

    27. Support imaginative community use of empty
    properties through Community Right to Buy,
    Meanwhile Use and a new “Community Right
    to Try”

    Ah yes. The two year old’s argument. If you have it, its mine.
    If I want it, its mine. …

    28. Run a number of High Street Pilots to test proof
    of concept

    Window dressing.

    It’s all about cutting regulation. Getting government out
    of the way. Not taking money from people so that it can be

  9. Steve

    The report also missed out the community decay caused by empty flats above the shops: she seemed to be glued to the ground floor. There are by some reports over 250,000 empty flats above shops. They are not classed in the empty property registers.. they are additional. By bringing these back into residential use we not only help the homeless/housing crisis but help bring high streets alive as more than mere shopping outlets.

  10. Mr. Sensible

    Yep, we need to get to grips with the supermarkets.

  11. LocalPower

    #peakoil Here's what the Portas review left out – Left Foot Forward: Left Foot ForwardHere's what the Portas rev…

  12. Mark Stevo

    Consumers don’t give a shit about the high street and aren’t prepared to pay to maintain it. No amount of middle class bleating from those who can afford it at the nef is going to change that.

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