Yet another forum. Yet another talking shop?
The Government has just launched the ‘Future High Streets Forum’ with a focus to address the issues facing struggling town centres across the UK.
It is a worthy act, but one I question as there is still too much talking and not enough action. The Portas Pilot Review was a similar story. I was honoured (and flattered) to be chosen as one of only 82 individuals who would become ‘Mentors’ to the Portas Pilot Projects. Fewer than 100 folk across the UK with the skills, experience and knowledge to help those struggling town centres. I shall name no names, but to a man (and a woman) each Mentor with whom I have spoken has had absolutely no contact with or from any of the projects.
So to hear that the new Forum is building on the work of Mary’s Review is a little odd, frustrating and worrying. “Leaders of business, councils, retail and property will work together to find ways of revitalising town centres and tackle problems such as empty shops …” ??Really? I’d love to think that will happen, but only a few enlightened councils will support projects and schemes that have genuine benefits for retailers as opposed to grand schemes that soak time and resource and look nice in annual reports. At least, sadly, that has been my experience over many, many years.
And I’ve just re-read the list: leaders of business, councils, retail and property. Isn’t someone missing? Err, the shopper? The one with the money. The one who is deserting the High Street and taking their spend elsewhere. How do they fit into this new project?
I sincerely hope Local Growth Minister, Mark Prisk, bangs some heads together. This is not about multi-million pound redevelopments, massive events whose legacy disappears when the bin men clear the site or messing about with street furniture. This is about communities and communication – talking shopping, not talking shops.
Last year’s report from Saatchi supported the view that folk like shopping in their home towns. So support them. Communicate with them. Support their communities – and see that make a real and positive difference.