Business expert hails Mary Portas' strategy to boost high streets


More small retailers should be able to survive if the government follows through with Mary Portas’ plans to provide a sustained boost for the high street, a business expert has said.

Ministers have announced plans to follow 28 recommendations from shopping guru Portas, such as starting a £10m High Street Innovation Fund to fill empty shops and creating a National Markets Day to encourage entrepreneurs.

Matthew Jaffa, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) London senior development manager, welcomed the government’s decision.

“We are keen to see empty shops become used and to see high streets thriving again. This is a welcome step to seeing more small businesses back in the community.”

He stressed that the introduction of the National Markets Day will provide great benefits and it should become an annual event.

“It’s a good idea and we encourage this form of help for people for starting up a business, but we don’t want this to be a one-off – we want it be a regular occurrence,” he said.

Jaffa added that the market day would be even more successful if it is promoted alongside the Independent Retailer Month campaign this July, which looks to increase the profile, and emphasise the strengths, of smaller retailers within their communities.

Portas first highlighted her concerns in a review in December, which was commissioned by prime minister David Cameron. She explained that without key issues being addressed high streets could “disappear forever”.

But housing minister Grant Shapps said the government would listen to her report and make sweeping changes, which will also see the start of a £500,000 fund for Business Improvement Districts to help town centres access loans more easily.

He also said there would be a strong commitment to helping councils remove “outdated” regulations that are restricting businesses and new markets, such as rules over the conversion of space above shops and abolishing centrally-set minimum parking charges.

Shapps also pledged to introduce increased transparency for parking charges to cultivate competition between town centres.

Along with looking at problems outlined in the report, Shapps also said they would be looking to go one step further by offering a “Portas Plus” deal by looking to cut red tape and increasing funding further.

Jaffa explained that, while this all sounds good, it has to be followed through and not just become an empty promise. He stressed that town centre parking is an issue that must be carefully considered as part of any changes.

“We don’t just want it to be nice words, we want these to be genuine actions, particularly on the issue of parking,” he said.

“There needs to be form of enforcement to make sure any parking charges are not simply a way for local authorities to make money out of visitors looking to shop in small businesses.”