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News-Mary Portas Report

Following December’s publication of Mary Portas’ ‘Review into the future of our High Streets’ the Government was remarkably quick off the mark implementing one of her key recommendations – establishing pilot ‘Town Team’ schemes. A formal response to all 28 recommendations is due soon but in the meantime Grant Shapps, Minister for Housing and Local Government at the DCLG unexpectedly stumped up enough cash for a competition to select 12 pilot towns, with each being given some £100,000 of funding to test the ‘proof of concept’.

For our High Streets to survive they need to offer something new and exciting.

On 4th February he announced the competition on YouTube (no less) from Hatfield Town Centre.’Our High streets have faced stiff competition from Internet shopping and out-of-town shopping’ he declared, in front of a very unexciting High Street. ‘We are leaving them underused, unloved and under-valued. The internet is not going to go away and so for our High Streets to survive they need to offer something new and exciting’.

Was there a note of nervousness in his voice? Maybe, as he might have been warned about redheads by his mother. In any event Ms Portas was in like Flynn with her response: ‘I hope my Review has inspired people with another vision of tomorrow where our High Streets are re-imagined as destinations for socializing, culture, well being and learning as well as shopping. I want the first twelve Town Teams to challenge the old ways of working, experiment, take risks and reaffirm their place at the heart of a community. A place we all want to be and can be proud of’.

Online sales were creating High Street vacancies long before the recession.

The Portas review is a good read and highlights the internet opportunities and challenges for retailers both large and small. It shows how online sales were creating High Street vacancies long before the recession bit. As Sir Philip Green of Arcadia Group said: ‘Why carry a High Street rent when it’s easier to increase sales online?’ Portas demonstrates how the growth of internet sales is affecting multiple and independent retailers alike, hence the demise of Woolworths. The report recommends Town Teams of local businesses to manage their High Street like a business, just like the big boys do with their Shopping Centres.

Embracing a willingness to adopt technology recommended by the Portas report the DCLG competition is staged and run entirely online. It was only announced on 4th February and entries must be submitted by 30th March. That’s not much time to prepare an entry but as Scary Mary says, speed of response is vital to successful retailers. All entries need to be accompanied by a video posted on YouTube showing why this entry is down on the streets wiv the kids, innit?

Entries can be lodged by anyone interested in the future of their High Street, not just the local Council. Local partnerships of investors and landlords have as much chance as stallholders or retailers but strong leadership is expected. The entry forms are very simple and applicants are expected to describe their vision, the potential for improving their High Street and their priorities. £1,000,000 of prize money is a cheap way to market-test the reports recommendations and find new ideas to be rolled-out across the nation. If you’ve not yet read the report download it from


and the application form from


The problem with reports like this is the devil hides in the detail. Some recommendations are very relevant to Markets e.g. a new ‘National Market Day’ when anyone could try their hand at being a trader or removing regulations to allow anyone to trade on the High Street. It includes a recommendation small businesses (presumably including indoor stalls) are offered concessions on their business rates – but the devil is in the detail of implementation. There’s no mention of awkward issues like Market Charters and pedlars licenses and I’d be happier if the legality of individual stall assessments was challenged before giving concessions. But putting the detail to one side for a moment the real value of the report is the debate it stimulates and the reaction of government.

Some 5,268 shops were closed by major retailers in 2011 whilst only 5,094 opened.

The continuing slide of the High Street was confirmed last month by insolvency specialists PriceWaterhouse Coopers. Some 5,268 shops were closed by major retailers in 2011 whilst only 5,094 opened. Bookshops, electrical and home-furnishing retailers were the worst hit with pawnbrokers, credit unions and pound shops taking up some of the slack. As Mike Jervis of PwC said: ‘Electricals and bookshops have suffered as these are now increasingly bought online, but retailers in this sector are typically carrying unnecessarily large property portfolios.’ So there.

The Portas report contains a cartoon of the High Street featuring a prominent Market with smiley customers. I hope your Council got the message and is entering the Town Team competition. If not, there’s still time for you to front it up using your Market as a focus for ‘socializing, culture, well being and learning – as well as shopping’. You may only have 4 weeks to embrace change, but it’s possible.

Good luck.


Havelska market

Sales fell 0.3% because of awful weather and the recession.

How was your Christmas trading? Good I hope – despite the long hours, discount competition and light fingers looking for a little something extra. Anecdotal evidence suggests Market sales held up pretty well in 2011 as shoppers looked for bargains. Mainstream retailers announced a mixed bag of results though. Like-for- like sales for multiples were up 2.2% but that was nothing to crow about in comparison to Christmas 2010 when sales fell 0.3% because of awful weather and the recession. Despite the continuing recession in 2011 the unseasonably good weather should have made Christmas 2010 easy to beat.

Sainsbury announced ‘their best Christmas ever’. Ocado and online sales were the big winners – up 20% or so.

Debenhams, JD Sports and Next all reported flat sales with some retailers like Blacks Leisure never even making it through the festive period. Tesco issued a profits warning which wiped the odd billion or two off their share price, but Sainsbury announced ‘their best Christmas ever’. Ocado and online sales were the big winners – up 20% or so. You know online marketing makes sense. Mainstream fashion retailers were stuck with furry coats in an Indian summer which prompted pre-Christmas sales earlier than ever with 25-50% discounts the norm. Buying departments were left with faces redder than Santa because you just can’t rely on the weather anymore, can you?

Amidst all this uncertainty December seemed like a good time for some research, courtesy of Wizzair. OK, the hotel was above a lap dancing club in Prague but what more can you expect from a cheap weekend package?

There are two good reasons for visiting the Czech Republic – it’s outside the Euro and everyone speaks English. Prague doesn’t have Budapest’s amazing market halls but since it became part of the EU in 2004 the Czechs have been quietly sorting out their economy whilst steering clear of the Euro. The City puts a lot of effort into the all-year general market on Havelska and the wonderful Christmas markets on Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. One of the few good aspects of being behind the Iron Curtain was to preserve their historic buildings.

The quality and variety of goods was excellent with toys and decorations handmade on the stall with a healthy disregard for the excesses of Health & Safety. I’ve never seen a working blacksmith or glass blower on a market before.

But the Eurozone crisis reaches everywhere. Stallholders confirmed how visitor numbers had dropped off as German tourists and British Stag weekenders stayed at home. The markets were staying open in January hoping for a post- Christmas influx of Russians celebrating the Orthodox New Year. Despite lingering memories of the Prague Spring of 1968 they were more than willing to empty their wallets. Sadly, the same weekend the death was announced of the inspirational Czech president Vaclav Havel who led the so-called Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Yes, life can be tough at Christmas – ask Celebrity Chef Anthony Worrall Thompson, cautioned for alleged shoplifting offences at Henley Tesco. This gave rise to a string of jokes such as ‘Why did the chicken cross the road? – Because it was under Anthony’s jacket’ etc. but he was in good company with Peaches Geldof, Winona Ryder and Tom Campbell – former advisor to Boris Johnson. Tom came up with a wonderful, career-ending confession whilst cultural strategy advisor to the Mayor of London: ‘When I go into a chain place for lunch I have to steal so they don’t make a profit out of me’ he announced. ‘I always steal the pudding or the soup or something. When you’re like, 40 they don’t grab you or anything – they just say ‘Sir, I think you’ve made a mistake…’ and then let you go. If I could I’d ban Tesco Metro’s, burn Nando’s and all Pret a Mangers would be wiped out. It’s what’s strangling the creativity of this city.’

Well, Tom you do have a point but I wouldn’t try that at Mudford-on-Sea Market. Stallholders there have spotted the marketing potential of a ‘Celebrity Shoplifting’ competition. The winner will be selected for the most imaginative excuse: ‘But I do a lot of work for charity / I’m always being picked-on for being ginger’ etc. and the winner really will get out of there. Losers will have to work as shelf-stackers in the Mudford Tesco. Let the punishment fit the crime.