Thursday, 21 June 2012

Our High Streets Are Becoming Yellow Brick Roads

You know the story of "Wizard of Oz?" - a group of disparate losers band together, pulled together by faith in sham guru? And that sham guru somehow keeps the naming rights?

As the Minister For Portas proudly proclaims that there will be a second wave of "Portas Pilots", the media-friendly reality TV star has to deal with a PR crisis in Margate. It is a real pity that the governments attempts to revive our High Streets is being dragged down to this level, but when you see an "expert" turn a presentation to a government committee into a public pitch to a television company, what do you expect?

If I were Grant Shapps, I'd be a bit worried. If Mary Portas wasn't such a darling in the press, I'm sure they'd be pointing out that her forthcoming TV series is a serious breach of the Civil
service Code. OK, so she's not on the government payroll, but her report and subsequent puts her into a special adviser bracket, and directly profiting from government work in this way is at the very least incredibly unethical. And that's before the alleged threats to Margate.

Despite the recent problems government ministers have had with special advisors (and indeed people who write for newspapers), Mr Shapps has just let the bandwagon (or should that be gravy train?) roll on. By the way, I have publicly challenged him on this issue via Twitter, but have been roundly ignored. I'm open to giving him a right to reply but not sure if he will have time between TV appearances.

One good thing that has come out of this has been unifying councils and retailers, albeit as they scramble for the pitiful sums of money on offer. As in
the "Wizard of Oz", the main characters didn't actually need the guru as by working together, they had already achieved what they wanted to.

Councils and retailers should have been working together already anyway. Retailers shouldn't be in awe of someone who has proved that, with a nationally aired prime time TV show, you can open a shop - they should be looking to be the best they can be. That's what Tesco do, there's nothing stopping them.

Meanwhile councils should be taking fully holistic views of developments - is the extra space needed? What happens to displaced units? Is there enough parking and transport links? Rather than the developer pay for a new roundabout and some hanging baskets, could they fund a park & ride?

The answers are all out there. Our toes have great retailers, big and small, there are great ideas out there like Independents Day (4th July - go support your local indie!!!). Every retailer can become their own guru - every town just needs a couple to work together. And will TV exposure make a difference? Surely winning back the local people who are driving past currently will be enough! Unless of course it's your town that has the outrageously camp guy or bimbo who the TV company give unequal airtime to. And lets face it, they won't hang around too long as they'll be on the next "Celeb Big Brother"

So High Streets of Britain, beware of false gurus - roll up your sleeves now and get on with becoming great! It's in YOUR hands!

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