What’s the future for Britain’s high streets?

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I recently attended the unveiling of the much-anticipated Grimsey Report, a review of the high street by former Iceland and Wickes chief executive, Bill Grimsey.

Positioned as an alternative to Mary Portas’ review in December 2011, the Grimsey report is a non-partisan look at the state of Britain’s high street and contains recommendations to shape future Government policy.

It argues that the traditional high street model as we know it is finished and a radical transformation is required if it is to have any chance of survival.

In particular, Grimsey outlines the need for a one-off levy on the UK’s biggest retailers to help pay for the regeneration of the country’s high streets. As smaller stores struggle for survival due to business rates, rents, and other costs, the report calls on national chains to contribute 0.25% of their 2014 sales to a fund that will sponsor new businesses.

Grimsey predicts that more than 20,000 retailers remain at serious risk of failure, despite the recommendations of the Portas Review almost two years ago.

Bill Grimsey has put his money where his mouth is by funding and leading an alternative review of the high street. There can be no doubt the future of the high street is of concern to many, but whether there is the political will to do anything remains to be seen.

The intractable issue of rates is one that features prominently in Grimsey’s review. Grimsey has laid down an almost audacious challenge to retailers and leisure operators to contribute to a one-off levy. With criticism already being levelled at Grimsey by Malcolm Walker of Iceland, and Mary Portas also receiving a grilling at Monday’s Select Committee about her high street review, it could take a lot of lobbying to address some fairly ingrained problems.

One thing is for sure: given the continued publicity about the high street, if MPs aren’t aware of the situation now, they never will be.

John is about to start work on an Economic Social Research Council (ESRC) Project: “High Street UK 2020: Transferring knowledge to facilitate the repositioning, reinventing, rebranding and restructuring of sustainable retail centres.

The project will be headed by Professor Cathy Parker of MMU, with other researchers including Dr Jonathan Reynolds (Academic Director of the Oxford Institute of Retail Management and Associate Dean of the Said Business School) and Deborah Peel (Professor of Architecture and Planning at the University of Dundee).

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About Author

John Pal is a Senior Lecturer in retailing at Alliance Manchester Business School. A regular guest on the likes of BBC Breakfast, BBC Radio 5 Live and The Today Programme, John specialises in corporate retail failure, retailer lobbying, retail location and general retail management.

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