Retailer Bill Grimsey, former head of Wickes, has set out an alternative to Mary Portas’ report on the future of the high street. His Grimsey Review, which you can read here, makes 31 recommendations, including a call for major chains to invest £550m into a local economic development fund. The report includes also calls for a freeze in car parking charges and the switching of the business rates multiplier to an annualised consumer prices measure.

“As a check-up on the health of the high street, the prognosis is not good,” writes Bill in his report. “Over 20,000 businesses are at risk, and we can expect more and more business failures. There are around 40,000 empty shops in the UK, and this has remained constant over the past three years. The question that local and central Government has to answer now is what are we going to do with these shops?

“The Grimsey Review is an alternative review available to all political parties in order to shape policy and action plans that, when implemented, will make a difference. We started from a recognition that the high street model as we know it is finished. We need a radical transformation for it to have any chance of survival. Anything short of this is just window-dressing, keeping a failed model on a life-support machine.”

Katja Hall, chief policy director of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), comments: “Rapid change in the retail sector means high streets have changed forever, and we can’t reinvent them as they once were. High streets are suffering from a lack of strategic vision, so a business plan for each town centre is a good idea – giving businesses the opportunity to work alongside local authorities to breathe new life into our town centres. Action on business rates would help ease the pressure on some retailers struggling to keep their doors open. However, a one-off money-grab on larger retailers would undermine investment and job creation.”

The British Property Federation (BPF) backs Bill’s call for a “root and branch” review of business rates, as analysis of EU data revealed that the UK pays the highest business rates of any country in Europe. The BPF’s analysis shows that, as a proportion of GDP, UK business rates are more than three times those in France, and more than five times those in Germany.

“The challenge now is to map out a way forward that will be tough, realistic and achievable,” writes Bill. “This must be a gimmick-free path that’s guided by common sense and a tremendous passion to put the UK back on top by revitalising and re-structuring the micro economies that are our towns and high streets.”
Ms Portas has defended her review, citing Portas Pilot Market Rasen in Lincolnshire as a success story.