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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 612-i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Communities and Local Government Committee
High Streets and Town Centres
Monday 2 September 2013
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1-90
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Communities and Local Government Committee
on Monday 2 September 2013
Mr Clive Betts (Chair)
Mrs Mary Glindon
Examination of Witness
Witness: Mary Portas, Leader, Independent Review into the Future of the High Street, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Thank you and welcome to the oneoff evidence session of the Committee on town centres, and a particular welcome to Mary Portas, who is here as the leader of the independent review into the future of the high street. Thank you very much for coming this afternoon to give evidence to the Committee. Mary Portas, can I just begin by saying to you, when you conducted your review, I think you used the words the high streets and town centres were in "a dire state"? Has your review made any difference to that?
Mary Portas: I think it has made a difference to that. The most important thing from my review is that it was a catalyst for change, and I think that was very important. I would like to backtrack first of all. I was travelling the country and seeing what was happening, and because I work in consumerism and marketing, I could see that we were going to have a crisis that was going to hit. The high street has been in decline for the amount of retail that we have had on the high street for the last 20 years.
I proposed this to Government. When Downing Street asked me to do something else, I said, "Look, I think there’s a bigger crisis at hand," and I proposed that I would do a piece of work. That piece of work was done in my time; that piece of work was done free of charge. I remember, when I presented it, the biggest worry was that it would end up in a filing cabinet somewhere where other pieces of work had ended up. In terms of putting this on the public agenda, in terms of manifesting change in the way that people are looking at their high streets and actually creating a sense of civic pride and getting traction behind it, I think it has worked.
However, and it is a really important thing here, this is not just about me. My name was on the proposal. I am not the saviour of the high street. I cannot do this on my own. I am a champion of it. I am apolitical; I do not work for Government. I do this because I believe in it; I believe in high streets and I believe they are an important social infrastructure, part of our communities and this country. Has it been on the public agenda? It has. Sometimes I wish I had not put my name on it, because it should come with a health warning, any proposal people put forward, because I have taken a huge bashing for work that I have done for nothing and that is quite simply unfair. It has become something that has had enormous traction, which is a good thing.
Q2 Chair: Are you saying to the Committee then that the important thing is not necessarily all the details of what you recommended? It is simply the fact that you did a review and highlighted that the high street was an important issue that was not receiving proper attention until you did your review.
Mary Portas: Actually, it is both. Most people do a review and walk away. I have not; two years down the line, I am still fighting for this. Actually, I think it was about the review initially and I have learned more things since, but it is also about ensuring that the recommendations and change happen. I hope what comes out the Select Committee is that we raise this profile again; we put this important issue again; and that you continue, with me, to put pressure where necessary to make change happen and keep high streets on the agenda.
Q3 Chair: We put a request out for questions to come into the Committee. We had them from quite a wide variety of sources. The British Retail Consortium said, "Where has the greatest progress been made since your review?" Can you actually point to certain things that have actually happened, where improvements have been made, which could be linked to your review and its recommendations?
Mary Portas: Yes, but I am not sure I am going to be able to run this off the top of my head. I am not very good at remembering stuff. First of all, I do not think the pressure should be on me for the review and what has been done in terms of that. The pressure should be on the Government and what has been put into place. I think about eight of the 17 recommendations that are changing on the high street have been because of my review, and I can see those; they were put forward and those have changed. What has been done is that there has been a real focus, not just on the Portas Pilots, but on all the review initiatives and towns across the country putting those into practice.
I cannot go through every single one of those, but I am going to start with one that I got an open letter on today. It came from Warwick. It said, "We’re Warwick. We didn’t win a Portas Pilot, but I felt I had to stand up for you and the pilot scheme in the high street, because you’re all getting a bit of a bashing," or rather me. "In Warwick, we’ve had our first Warwick Rocks Food and Film Festival. It was a great week of food, film and general good feeling in the historic town. A small but focused group of people got together and pitched for this business. There are plans for another weeklong celebration of food and film next year already. Businesses, locals, medias and outsiders are all very much behind it. The Town Teams used Warwick Rocks branding to get the spirit and give away free bags, clothes, a market stall, a new community website, town guides, etc., and it’s generated more media buzz than we ever anticipated. You may wonder where you all fit into this. We weren’t a Portas Pilot, but what was initially just a hashtag on Twitter has become a brand and an important part of what we do. None of this would have happened without your pilot. The Portas buzz around the town truly inspired people. It got the media involved, it made the councils listen and it forged relationships and community spirit that are stronger now than they ever were before."
Now, there are probably about 5060 examples of that. I cannot keep a tag on that across the country, but it is happening; it is happening in many different ways. I could not give you a list of what has been achieved, but certainly there is lots and lots of activity.
Q4 Chair: We always seem to have a lot of Government activity about creating initiatives. We have heard the Portas Pilots and the Town Team Partners linked to the review but, since then, we have also had the Future High Streets Forum, the High Street Innovation Fund, a Future High Street XFund now called the High Street Renewal Award and a fund for Business Improvement Districts. There seem to be almost more initiatives than actions coming out. Is that a frustration for you? Do you actually want them to focus on the pilots, getting them moving and getting them to learn from each other? Is that what you really want to see?
Mary Portas: No, it is not just focusing on the pilots. We have to have some policy change. That is the thing. The pilots kickstarted and started to empower towns to think, "We can start to make a difference here and we can make change happen," which was a really good thing. I am in two ways about this. What could have been done was looking at how the recommendations could have been put into a much clearer framework and structure to enable towns for a guide because, in a lot of the pilot towns, they received this money and a lot of people just did not know what to do with it. A really clear framework would have really helped. At the same time, from the pilot towns, we are getting learnings, which have helped to sharpen a framework and pull together some very important businesses and players to hone that in the Forum.
The Forum was a bit slow in getting together. That should have been started straight away to pull together how we could have influenced not just the Portas Pilot towns but all towns, and actually had some joinedup thinking across lots of different departments. In hindsight, going into politics, I have learned that. I did not know all of this beforehand. I think the Forum should have been pulled together more quickly, and the learnings and real guidance on local leadership planning, really empowering communities and enabling them to create competitive high streets would have been very beneficial. That has started to happen now, but it could have been a lot earlier.
Q5 Chair: Just thinking about a joinedup approach in Government, the Government has recently announced that they are in favour of giving greater permission to allow the conversion of retail to residential in towns. Do you think that has come out of the blue and has not really been connected to what you are doing? Is that sort of policy initiative from Government sometimes frustrating to you in that it is not joined up to the rest of what you are trying to achieve?
Mary Portas: Yes, I do think it is. For that one, I would be surprised, because it is the Housing Minister who is the High Street Minister as well. It is probably best; he should be able to connect the two together there. It was very difficult. I put in a review, and you hope then that Government is able to do the join up across the Departments. Actually, if you look, when I talk about the future of the high street, we know it is not just going to be about retail. We know that. If you look at the way consumerism has changed, if you look at the way the internet has challenged the way the high street is, we will never have the big chains back on the high street again. Ten years ago, to get critical mass and profitability, they needed 300 stores. Today, they only need 100 if their second door is the internet, so all those tertiary and secondary towns will never have the high street that we had before.
What I believe we need to do is to create high streets that are multicultural and really become a destination for communities, and that is very important. Now, that will require creative thinking and lots of different types of shops, as it were, whether that is schools, artists working from the high streets, youth clubs or destinations for health. Therefore, all the Departments that head that up should have been involved. That has not been a cohesive focus on joining those together.
Q6 Mrs Glindon: Good afternoon, Ms Portas. Just to go on from some of the things you have said about making everything work, people working together and the different things that have been set up, one of the issues that has been raised is the fact that some of the money has not been spent with the second wave of the pilots, in May. There had only been 13% of the money spent and some had not spent any at all. Why do you think people have been so slow to spend the money allocated to them?
Mary Portas: I think purely this. Let us put it this way: we are sitting here and we have forums; we have people writing views and not knowing quite how to regenerate a high street. I am not sure a group of people is able to do that in a town, wherever that is. That is a very big challenge, a very big challenge. Nobody knows the answer to it and we are all trying to work it out.
In hindsight, when I talk about the Forum, there should have been real guidance from Government on what a Town Team should be and the mix that would create a really powerful Town Team. There should have been clear guidance on what that was-where you pull together councils with trade associations with landlords with retailers with people who are all the stakeholders and residents. There should have been guidance on what that was. There should have also been guidance on where and how was the best way to spend money. A lot of these people are just apprehensive on what to do with it. For some of them, in hindsight, when I visited the towns, it took about six months for the money to come through.
The other thing is this: it is going to take years to regenerate a high street. For us to be looking at these pilot towns and saying, "Has success been achieved?" is not down to how many units have been put back in. This is going to take a very long time, but I do believe a much more focused structure and toolkit should have been given to them. That I will push for to come out of the Forum, but I think it is apprehension from the people not to spend it. That is simply it.
Q7 Mrs Glindon: Would you think, from what you are saying, that having the money element being so important could be a hindrance?
Mary Portas: I do not think it is a hindrance, because what it did was pulled together people with a vision and a care for their town. In terms of really kickstarting this, it was a very good thing to do, but some towns have achieved this by following the review and not having the money, and done some incredible work. The money was in some ways a campaign idea that came from Government. I thought at first, "Oh, please don’t let this just end up being a campaign idea," and that is why I have continued to try to push for change. I do not think it was a hindrance, because it empowered people to pull together and just say, "We actually care about our town. Let’s make this happen," but lots of towns have made things happen around the review and trialled stuff on their own that is not in the review. That is what has been so good about all of this.
Q8 Mrs Glindon: You touched on bringing communities together. From the #AskPortas questions that have gone out, vInspired said, "Have any Portas Pilots actively involved young people"-the age group under 25-"in their Town Teams?" If they have, what kind of difference has that made to the pilots?
Mary Portas: I do not know the answer to that, but I do know in Stockport, which I visited, they started a teenage market, which was actually incredible. I tried to work with these young guys as soon as possible. They actually found that some of the people on the Town Team were not making change quick enough, so they did their own thing. It is very difficult to silo it and work it just around that, because the knockon effect on so many different areas has been incredible. These guys sent me a note the other day saying that they are actually going to move the teenage market around the country to other towns that need it.
There have been people who have been empowered to do their own thing on the back of this but, in order for them to do that, you have had to have insightful landlords and insightful councillors to enable change to happen. I would like to think that we want to put those learnings out to other towns, so they can look at those learnings and think, "Yes, we can do that. We can have a go at that." There is a big fear. If you look, we talk about the localism and the locals are responsible for this. There is a big fear from local councils, which are very short on money, to take risk; and therefore the risk, I think, will come from learnings across these Portas Pilot towns, where some have taken it and it has worked. Some have and it has not.
Q9 Mrs Glindon: A local authority perspective on this-something a local authority has asked-is how the resources could be best challenged to engage those who do not really want to be engaged, and used to change the mindset of businesses.
Mary Portas: Sorry, what do you mean by how could the resources be challenged?
Mrs Glindon: How could you get the best out of them to actually enact change and to move people on from perhaps where they are?
Mary Portas: Which resources do you mean?
Mrs Glindon: The monetary resources.
Mary Portas: That would be very wrong of me to say this is how they should. The thing about each town is that each town will have different unique needs. If we start to come from the premise that the high street should serve the needs of that community, and their needs might not be just around retail, then I think it would be remiss for someone to say, "This is how it should be spent." It would be helpful to have guidelines from different towns of what has been achieved, what ideas could be done, where learnings have been and where things have become successful, but to do a brushstroke would be very difficult, because different towns have very different needs.
Q10 Simon Danczuk: Just sticking with the performance of the first 12 Portas Pilots, I was reading something produced by BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme, which was published earlier this year, 29 May, and it said that the research that they did showed that, in 10 out of the 12 pilot towns, more retail units had closed than had opened in the last year. There had been a loss of 95 retail units in the Portas Pilot areas, so vacancy rates for premises have increased under the Government’s flagship Portas Pilots. What is the reason for that, do you think, Mary?
Mary Portas: I do not think that is just from Portas Pilot towns; that is across the country. This is the tsunami that we saw coming. This is why I said we need to do something about this two years ago. This is an issue, but this is going to happen. The big chains are not going to be on the high street in the way they were before. That is what I talked to you about: if you looked at the way that profit was made in big retail, their second door now is the internet, because it is much more costeffective, so they are going to close down the tertiary sites; they are going to close down the secondary sites. That is problematic right across the country and not just the Portas Pilot towns.
Q11 Simon Danczuk: Under the Government’s flagship proposals to improve the town centre, the situation has gotten worse. Who do you think is responsible for that?
Mary Portas: What is responsible for the way the high street has changed is changing consumer needs. Also, we need to go back in history and we need to look at what was outoftown retailing and the way that we do not have any real towncentre initiatives that made people want to come into town centres. There is absolutely nothing that says, "Let’s put town centres back," and that is something that we need to fight for. You shake your head at that.
Simon Danczuk: "Town centre first" is in the NPPF, in the National Planning Policy Framework.
Mary Portas: Yes, but I do not think at the moment there is anything that is actually inspiring big businesses and small businesses to come into the town centre first, nor is there anything that is disincentivising them to build out of town.
Chair: We will come on to planning issues in a while. We will come back to that.
Q12 John Pugh: Mary, you have set yourself a very important and challenging task. I think we are all very grateful for that, but how much time per month were you able to spend on this particular line of work, if I can put it like that?
Mary Portas: How much am I able to? Do you mean out of my own time for nothing?
John Pugh: Yes.
Mary Portas: Let me put it this way: every day it is in my head. What do you mean by spending time?
Q13 John Pugh: Perhaps you could give us some idea of some of the handson involvement you have on a weekly basis with individual towns. We have obviously seen the television programme.
Mary Portas: I do not have a handson involvement on a weekly basis with individual towns. I cannot do that.
Q14 John Pugh: When you work as part of the Portas Pilots and you get up in the morning and address yourself-
Mary Portas: When I do what?
John Pugh: When you work as part of Portas Pilots-
Mary Portas: "Worked" or "work"?
John Pugh: Work.
Mary Portas: As part of the Portas Pilots?
John Pugh: As part of the Portas Pilots project.
Mary Portas: I do not know that I do work as part of the Portas Pilots.
Q15 John Pugh: In a sense, they are your flagship, are they not?
Mary Portas: They are not my flagship. They are a Government initiative. They are not my flagship. They are something I put into the report that I believed we should be doing, trialling, and the Government came up and chose the towns. I did not choose the towns. I did not get involved in what the guidelines for choosing a town were.
Q16 John Pugh: Okay, well, let us talk about the pilots specifically. Part of the pilots was the mentors. Mentors were very much part of the package. Do you think they have been used sufficiently, because a lot of expertise volunteered itself at one stage, did it not?
Mary Portas: What mentors-the ones who are in the Forum at the moment?
John Pugh: For the Portas Pilot towns, part of the offer really was that many of them would get free mentoring. A number of organisations-the British Council of Shopping Centres, the British Property Federation and people like that-volunteered assistance of one kind or another. Do you feel their assistance has been well used?
Mary Portas: I do not know individually from each town. I think you would have to speak to each individual town to see whether their assistance has been well used. I do not know the answer to that. They are out there; they give their assistance for free.
Q17 John Pugh: Do you have a view on it?
Mary Portas: I think it is really important you have mentoring. I have a view that that mentoring cannot just come from retail. That mentoring needs to come from central with guidelines, and you need a Minister who is over that consistently. I have a view that any mentoring is good mentoring.
Q18 John Pugh: The Town Teams are a very good idea I think we would all agree. Initially they were given £10,000. As a result of that, they were set up and various projects started. Do you think that is too short term and do you think a second round of funding would be desirable in order to see some initiatives through to an end?
Mary Portas: All of this has to be about long term. This is very long term; I do not think that we can look at anything short term. Funding is important, but more important is looking at how we are encouraging and guiding the Town Teams, the councils and the communities to regenerate.
Q19 John Pugh: When you say "we", we are talking about the Government here, are we?
Mary Portas: Yes, we are talking about the Government here. I do not work for the Government. I attend the focus groups to try to push through these reviews; but, yes, we are talking about the Government. Who else would we be talking about-or local government as well? It is not just central, but local as well. I think, in all honesty, we should stop making this a political thing; it needs to be crossparty. When I did the review, I met with many from Labour-Chuka Umunna to talk about the initiatives that he was doing, and Harriet Harman put those into it. This is something that should be crossparty, all the initiatives.
Q20 John Pugh: Just turning to the local focus, you obviously had over the course of your project, if I can put it like that-we will not call it work-a good deal of contact with Chambers of Commerce. Now, you must have got a flavour of how they are reacting to a situation that obviously they are confronted with. Do you think they sufficiently got the threat from the internet in the way that you outlined at the start?
Mary Portas: You see, it is a threat from the internet, but it is a mix across all different things that have happened over many years. The most important thing-and this is really key-is that I still do believe that people want to interact, want to socialise and want to come outside their homes. The internet is one part of the reason for the decline in the high street. Therefore, they need to think in a different way about the role of the high street in their community. Most people know why there is a decline in the high street. It is more about the role, maybe the integrated role, of the internet in the high street going forward, rather than whether they know what the threat of the internet is.
Q21 John Pugh: Can I rephrase the question, because I think I am wholly agreeing with you here? Do you think local shopping communities, if I can put it like that, have sufficiently realised the fact that the internet can sometimes be an ally, as well as a threat, say, via the use of social media to promote what they are offering?
Mary Portas: It is very difficult for anybody to truly understand how to do that. If you speak to some of the biggest retailers, it has taken them 10 years to even get to the stage where they are today to understand that. Any type of guidance that can be given is important, and that is why the Forum, with the mix of people who are on it, is really important to be giving that guidance and those learnings to them. It is a very tricky field to try to navigate, and a lot of big retailers have not navigated it well. To expect that, for those local communities and local councils to be able to understand that, is a big ask.
Q22 John Pugh: There is a big role for mentoring, in fact.
Mary Portas: There is a big role for mentoring in so much of this. Truthfully, nobody knows the answers yet. Often if you look back at the history of the high street, so much of it happened organically. When I did this piece of work, there was no Minister over the high streets. It was not seen as an issue: it washed its face; it got on with life on its own. There are huge learnings for everybody. Even since doing my report, I see others have come out. A brilliant report in Scotland came out. We are all learning about this. It is a case of just trying one’s best. If you are saying do I get up and how much time do I give, I give what I can. I am learning too, as we go along, and it is changing faster than we can ever imagine.
Q23 Mark Pawsey: Mary, you launched your report with a lot of enthusiasm and lots of very clear recommendations in the report, but you used phrases earlier like you have "taken a bit of a bashing". I just wonder whether you feel that the way your role was set up was properly thought through. Are you happy in your role now?
Mary Portas: I do not know what my role is, apart from being a campaigner, to be quite honest. I suppose I was not used to navigating politics, as it were. Sitting here right now, I am thinking, "God, what have I done wrong?" especially after Dr John Pugh, thank you. You kind of think, "I actually went out just doing something that I think is important to my country." I do think, "Blimey, I wish someone had held my hand on navigating politics, because it has been a bit tough." It is tough when you see your name above the title of the towns or someone bashing it. It is difficult. Come on; you have seen it. It is very difficult to take, when you think you have done this in your spare time, whether I have seen it as a task, work or whatever you say, Dr John Pugh. It is difficult; you just want to do your best and make change happen.
Q24 Mark Pawsey: If you knew-
Mary Portas: What I knew now, would I do it again?
Mark Pawsey: Absolutely, yes; that is the question.
Mary Portas: I have been asked that one time and time again. Yes, I would do it again, because we must try to do something here and save our high streets, whatever shape that may take in the future. Do you know the worst time? I remember watching the riots, and it was the first time in my life I had ever felt scared of my own city. Never, ever had I felt scared living in London. I felt scared and troubled when I saw that. What I clicked from that was that, actually, this was a displacement of people without any connection to their community and to their place.
Q25 Mark Pawsey: What is the consequence of that for town centres?
Mary Portas: The consequence of that for town centres is that communities and that infrastructure are very important to people. That intimacy, as it were, and that web of security that goes around your place are very important and they come from high streets. To just say that that is dead is wrong; I think it is wrong. The shape that high streets have had over the last 20 years is dead, so we need to work on what the new one is.
Q26 Mark Pawsey: Sticking with this role, do you think that there has not been a structure put in place to share good practice, for example? Is the difficulty that some good things are happening here, but nobody is pulling it together?
Mary Portas: That is the thing.
Q27 Mark Pawsey: Who should do that?
Mary Portas: That should be done from Government, and every report that has been subsequently written should be harnessed, pulled together and best practice taken from that.
Q28 Mark Pawsey: Was the mistake at the outset then that there was no vehicle created to carry on the groundwork that your team had done?
Mary Portas: Yes. What I would have done was actually given timescales to this. I do not know whether I would have created a lobbying group, because I do not even know what a lobbying group is, but it would have been very good. I would like to see that this Committee meets in a year’s time to see what has actually come out the back of that and real pressure is put on for results driven, not just looking at one slice of it. That is really important. That is what I would have done.
Q29 Mark Pawsey: Is there currently no measure of performance?
Mary Portas: I do not think there is a measure of performance, at the moment.
Q30 Mark Pawsey: We cannot say, "Mary did this report and the consequence is this." Nobody is doing that work.
Mary Portas: At the moment, there is no level of performance, yes.
Q31 Chair: Do you think the Government has been a little bit too free with the use of your name around this whole project, maybe to try to get the kudos for being seen to do something or even maybe as a name to attach blame to if it goes wrong?
Mary Portas: I do not know. I would like to think that it was not the latter. The thing is, when you are in the public eye, as I am, there is this knockon that this is a PR vehicle. Actually, the fact that I am in the public eye has put this on the public agenda, which was a helpful thing, but it has also been quite tough for me personally to be on the receiving end of it. There have been times when I have had to be answerable to the press and the Government has been silent on that. I would have liked a bit more support.
Q32 Chair: When they actually announced the Portas Pilots, the Government said, and I am quoting from their blurb at the time, the pilots would have "free support from retail industry leaders including Mary Portas’s own team". They were offering your team’s support for free. Was that clear to you in the past?
Mary Portas: Do you know what? I have gone into a muddy black space on that. I cannot remember. Including from my team? I cannot remember whether I was ever asked. That was the question, was it not? I cannot remember. We would have national meetings, and I would be chairing those and working with them, with all the original Portas towns. I did that, yes.
Chair: Let us come on to look at the Portas Pilots and how they were decided upon.
Q33 Simon Danczuk: Mary, do you agree that Government funding should be decided in an objective and evidencebased way before it is given out?
Mary Portas: I do not know what you mean by that.
Q34 Simon Danczuk: Let me explain it to you then. Do you think that Government should decide, when it is spending millions or putting resources-cash, time, civil servants’ time and your time, for that matter-it should decide where that money goes based on evidence, based on facts and based on what is put before it in an objective, as opposed to a subjective, way?
Mary Portas: I would like to think that is what they did. I did not have input on that, so I would like to think that is what they did.
Q35 Simon Danczuk: Fair enough. Let me ask you then: in February of 2012, Grant Shapps, the Minister, told Yellow Door, your firm, and Optomen, that they should have "no involvement" in the selection of the Portas Pilots. Why then did Yellow Door email the Department for Communities and Local Government two months later with what they called an "early shortlist" of the 13 towns that they thought would make good Portas Pilots.
Mary Portas: I do not know. I do not know who did that. Who did that?
Q36 Simon Danczuk: You did not know that your company did that.
Mary Portas: I have nearly 50 staff. I do not oversee every email.
Q37 Simon Danczuk: A senior director in Yellow Door emailed the DCLG to say, "These are our suggestions for what should be the Portas Pilots." You did not know that one of your staff had done that.
Mary Portas: When the Portas Pilots came in, all the towns made videos. I thought it was really good to look at what they were doing and what they were saying.
Q38 Simon Danczuk: You were aware that your business then tried to influence which should be the Portas Pilots.
Mary Portas: No, I was not aware that we were trying to influence what should be the Portas Pilots.
Q39 Simon Danczuk: Do you think it was appropriate for Optomen, the TV production company, to email the DCLG in May 2012 making the case for Roman Road, on the grounds that, as they said, "Social history is currently really popular on television."? Were you aware of that?
Mary Portas: No.
Q40 Simon Danczuk: Well, tell me, Mary, why did you tell a meeting of Margate townspeople to, and I am quoting you here, "either let in the cameras or I’ll go back on the train and some other town gets it."? What did you mean by that-that they will not get the cash?
Mary Portas: No, that is not what I meant, but that is what the media picked up. That is not what I meant and I am very clear on what I did mean, because that is me speaking. What I meant in that was I believe that the power of media, and certainly putting these issues on to television, highlights what the problems are on the high streets. Most people in Margate wanted that to happen. I said to them, "If you don’t want the cameras, then I will go back out and some other town will get the show." It is as simple as that: "gets it" meaning me and the TV crew.
Q41 Simon Danczuk: It appears to the public, from all that evidence that I have just given-and there is more-that you are trying to influence the decision of Government on where the pilots should be, because it would help make good television. What do you say to that suggestion?
Mary Portas: That is really not the case. That is absolutely not the case.
Q42 Simon Danczuk: So you were not trying to influence the decision.
Mary Portas: No, I was not at all.
Q43 Simon Danczuk: Okay, fair enough. Let me just turn to another point. You have been saying repeatedly since you have been here that you have not been paid for any of the work that you have done for Government. I can understand your being concerned about that. The Daily Mail reported in June 2012 that "Ms Portas will receive no Government money for her work, but Channel 4―with which she has a two-year £500,000 contract―confirmed she will be paid her normal project fee." It is true to say that you have received cash for producing these TV programmes that are based on some of the Portas Pilots.
Mary Portas: If I was getting £500,000 for Channel 4, let me tell you, I would be a happy woman. I am not. Those numbers that they were bashing about-I am surprised that you listen to the Daily Mail, Mr Danczuk, but never mind. I do not get that money, let me tell you. I am paid for doing TV shows for Channel 4. I do a mix, and the shows that I do try to manifest change and do things that are really important. I did a show on manufacturing. I was paid for doing that show. That has really helped manufacturing in this country. I have done shows on charity shops. I have opened up 11 charity shops subsequently on the back of that.
I did this show because I believed this needed to be done. I could not go on TV and do a show where I was making over shops, which I was doing before, when actually Rome was burning all around. I remember saying that to Channel 4. Let me tell you, that was a very difficult TV show to make. I could make my living a lot more easily by going into one small shop and turning it around. I did that and put it into Channel 4 because I believed it was the right thing to do, and Margate benefited from that. If you speak to the people of Margate, they will tell you that, too.
Q44 Simon Danczuk: Let me put on record that I think the Daily Mail is an excellent newspaper and I am never afraid to read it. The second point I would make is that you have the opportunity now to tell the Committee and the public exactly what you do get paid by Channel 4 or the other TV companies.
Mary Portas: No, thank you.
Q45 Simon Danczuk: The third point is that any normalthinking person would conclude that your team was unduly influencing Government, in terms of the decisions that they were making, so that you could make good TV, so that you could get paid a handsome fee. That is the allegation that is made, is it not?
Mary Portas: That is the allegation coming from you. I do not think that is reasonable at all. I have not influenced TV. I do not get involved in what the production company is doing. I made a TV programme because I believed that this was a very important issue. That was very hard work, and I certainly did not get paid what you said.
Q46 Mark Pawsey: Coming back to some of the issues in your review, you drew attention to the financial burden imposed by business rates, among other challenges faced on the high street. You said that you think more can be done to make business rates work for high street businesses. What would you specifically like to see done and what do you think Government is doing with respect to business rates?
Mary Portas: We have to stop this freeze instantly, look at this and put it on the agenda very quickly. I am not a tax expert and there have been some big players who have put forward what they think should be done on business rates, from Philip Green to-I will not say anyone else at the moment, but a lot of people have put really clever thoughts down on business rates. I do not actually know what the answer is. What I do know is that we cannot wait on a freeze and I do believe that, if we are going to get businesses back on to the high street, whether they are new businesses or some of the bigger businesses, we need to have some incentives, and business rates seem to be the biggest stop for growth at the moment.
Q47 Mark Pawsey: What do you make of the Government’s view that stability is more important than the possibility of business rates changing?
Mary Portas: They are very wrong on that and it is a shortterm view. It is a bit like the parking issues as well. The simple things that we need to look at are rates; we need to look at parking; and we need to look at landlords having some incentive to do some longerterm investment.
Q48 Mark Pawsey: What do you think will happen to the high street if nothing is done about business rates?
Mary Portas: If nothing is done about business rates, we will not see the development of new and exciting ideas. If we look at this country, one of the things that we are about is great innovation. If you look at the history of retail even, so much came from this country, and I think we would be suppressing the new green shoots that would come into it. Also, some of the bigger businesses that would look to come back onto it will not be coming back.
Q49 Mark Pawsey: Do you think there is a case for a selective reduction in business rates to target particularly those high streets in difficulty, if they got 25% or 50% off?
Mary Portas: Some of the local councils are doing that, but that is quite tough.
Mark Pawsey: They have to make the money somewhere else.
Mary Portas: Exactly.
Q50 Mark Pawsey: What is your view about the impact on council taxpayers generally? Do you think they should be paying more council tax to perhaps subsidise reduced business rates in some areas of some towns?
Mary Portas: Say that again.
Mark Pawsey: Should council taxpayers pay more council tax to subsidise lower business rates in some town centres, because that is what the consequence of lower business rates in town centres is?
Mary Portas: No, I do not think that should be the case. I do believe we need to be looking at a very longterm resolution here on business rates, and that has not been done. That actually has not been done historically, and it is something that really needs to be up for review. A freeze until 2015 is just not going to help things, but how that is going to be squared at the moment I do not know enough about, but it does need to be sorted. That is part of the Forum that is looking at it, but it is something that we need to have a response on fairly quickly.
Q51 John Stevenson: Just following on from one of Mark’s questions about rates, one of the other big costs is rent. I notice in recommendation 18 you make reference to the leasing code and arrangements between landlords and tenants. Do you think there is an argument that Government should actually legislate to stop upwardsonly rent reviews?
Mary Portas: I do think there is. Upwardonly in this economic climate is very difficult for businesses. There have been some towns where landlords have realised that they are not going to claw back in the way that they used to and have been quite creative to enable businesses to go in at a lesser rent. We have seen some real wins on the high street from that. We have so many absentee landlords as well, and so many landlords who are refusing to move on that. I do not want to make a grey area for landlords, because some have actually been pretty good at regenerating the high street and looking at longerterm ways for their rent. I think upwardsonly is just never going to incentivise people to come into the town centre. The big thing that we need to do is to look at some very clear incentives and some clear disincentives for going out of town, which is the other issue that has not happened.
Q52 John Stevenson: Just picking up on two of your other recommendations-14 and 15-14 was the presumption in favour of towncentre development, which arguably has effectively been introduced to the NPPF. Do you think that councils up and down the country are adhering to that?
Mary Portas: This is what I talk about on incentives. I do not think there is enough. It is not even just the councils. This is where I had the issue with Mr Pickles: where are the incentives? I go back to this: there are no clear incentives for me as a business to think, "I must go into that town." For councils to adhere to it, they need to think about what those incentives are, as does central Government.
Q53 John Stevenson: They are setting out a presumption, so you would think councils should be following that presumption.
Mary Portas: The presumption of what?
John Stevenson: In favour of towncentre development.
Mary Portas: I think they are; I do think councils are trying their best to regenerate their town centres. There is a presumption for that, but it is such a mixed bag. I will go to some towns where the feeling is not happening. I was in Cornwall and I literally met with the council. The Town Teams were trying to regenerate the high street and the local council was trying to do a deal for another outoftown supermarket. All the people in the town said-"all the people", I have to be careful-but a majority of the people were saying, "We don’t want this to come into our town." The council saw it as competition for the other outoftown supermarket and that that was making it even. There is a real mixed bag. I do not think you can say. Most would like to think they are doing that, but I do not think they are clear on how they are going to achieve it, as yet.
Q54 John Stevenson: While we are talking about outoftown development, recommendation 15 is the exceptional sign-off. We have the Margate Tesco incident, where the Secretary of State clearly signed that off. If you introduce your exceptional sign-off, is it actually going to make any difference?
Mary Portas: Do you know what? That is one that I have had to rethink, if I am honest. You are absolutely right on that. That was one of my learnings of putting a proposal forward that was helped by Government, to put it in those terms. I think I wanted to stop it all at that time, because if you are saying "town centre first," then what does that mean? It is interesting. That is one that does need a complete rethink because, if we look at Margate, you are absolutely right: there is a team of people trying to regenerate a high street and an 82,000squarefoot superstore has been signed off at the top. What probably needs to be done now, as I talked about, is incentives for in and penalties for out.
Q55 John Stevenson: You also recently mentioned some research into outoftown development that you would like to see carried out by Government. What sort of research would you like to see?
Mary Portas: Impact testing. There has been none of that at all-I am talking about for the last 20 years-on what the impact test of out of town has done.
Q56 Chair: Another thing about the outoftown developments: I do not think it has come across as an issue for you, but some larger retailers will say, "We have to go out of town, because the format of our stores is such that there simply are no sites in any high street, town or district centre that could accommodate them and we are not prepared to alter our format to fit in with the sites that are available." Is that an issue that you have come across, because it seems to be a way of getting around the NPPF, so we can say, "There is no satisfactory site; we are going out of town; and that’s it."?
Mary Portas: Yes, but then we have to look at whether one needs 82,000 square feet of retail out of town. Is that really what a consumer needs today? Actually, when you start to look at consumer habits, what has happened since we have had the recession is that people are shopping less and trying to shop more local. That driving out of town and thinking about the consequence of petrol prices and loading up their car is seen to be less interesting to the consumer.
That is why I think this is interesting for the impact test. That is very much the retailer saying, "This is what we need," and actually there has been no impact test. Is that even what is needed by the consumer in that town? That has not happened. I would love to see a piece of work on that because, if you decide you are going to build 82,000 and say, "That is what the consumer wants," where is the proof and where is the work behind that? Councils find that very difficult to fight; they do not have the knowledge to be able to deal with that or the sophistication of the big retailers to respond to that.
Q57 James Morris: Can I just come back to your response to the Government’s response to your recommendations? Talking about the Tesco Margate controversy, you said, "I genuinely believe we can have a new type of high street, but we need to dig deeper and I’m not seeing that happening and it’s getting very frustrating. The Government response to my proposals has been tepid. I feel exhausted by it." Do you regret getting involved in this review in the first place?
Mary Portas: You asked me that before and I said no, I do not regret it.
James Morris: It has not been a waste of time.
Mary Portas: No, it has not been a waste of time. It has not been a waste of time, because what has come from this is a real catalyst for change. I will go back on that; this has not been a waste of time at all. What would have happened had I not done the review?
Q58 James Morris: You said, "When I look at Twitter and the people wanting to try things and make things happen…the Government has not kept up with its side of the bargain. I feel thoroughly and utterly deflated." That sounds like somebody who thinks it has been a waste of time.
Mary Portas: No, it does not say that it is a waste of time. That is someone who is a bit tired and that is someone who thinks also that we should have had a speedier response to the review. It took quite a while; they were slow in responding to the review.
Q59 James Morris: Grant Shapps said that he "accepted virtually all of the recommendations" that came out of your review, and you describe that as a "tepid" response.
Mary Portas: Was that straight after Grant Shapps? When did I say "tepid" response?
James Morris: Grant Shapps said that he accepted virtually all of your recommendations. Is that a tepid response from the Government or not?
Mary Portas: When did I say about the "tepid" response?
James Morris: You said that it was a "tepid" response.
Mary Portas: What date was the "tepid" response? What date did I say that?
James Morris: In response to this Tesco Margate.
Mary Portas: That is a year later.
Q60 James Morris: You have made all kinds of comments about not understanding the way that the political process works and how exhausting it has been, but the Government has essentially accepted the majority of your recommendations. Do you think that is a good thing or not?
Mary Portas: There is accepting it and then there is making change, is there not? You are a politician; you know that. I was quite excited when they said they accepted all of them. I thought that meant that everything goes into-
Q61 James Morris: Is that not just naive?
Mary Portas: Yes, I am very naive.
Q62 James Morris: Have you tried to get a meeting with the Prime Minister or the relevant Secretary of State?
Mary Portas: I have written to the Prime Minister.
Q63 James Morris: Have you had a response?
Mary Portas: Yes, I have.
Q64 James Morris: What did he say?
Mary Portas: I do not know off the top of my head, but I can get that for you.
James Morris: What was the headline? You received a letter from the Prime Minister; you must remember that. You must remember what the Prime Minister said in headline, surely.
Mary Portas: He says it is a priority and he is still behind it. There is your headline.
Q65 James Morris: What about the Secretary of State? Have you raised issues to do with this sign-off issue?
Mary Portas: I wrote to the Secretary of State over Tesco.
Q66 James Morris: What did he say?
Mary Portas: He did not respond to me.
Q67 James Morris: He did not respond to you. When did you write to him?
Mary Portas: I do not know the date.
Q68 Chair: Was it quite some time ago?
Mary Portas: It was regarding the Tesco, so probably about six months ago, I would have thought.
Q69 James Morris: When was the last time you had a meeting with a Government Minister about your recommendations and progress?
Mary Portas: I spoke to Mark Prisk about a week ago, two days ago.
Q70 James Morris: What did you say to him?
Mary Portas: I just went through all that was happening on the Forum.
Q71 James Morris: Do you think there is progress being made or not? Do you believe the Prime Minister when he says that it is his priority?
Mary Portas: I think he has many priorities. I am not sure how big a priority it is.
Q72 James Morris: Do you believe him when he says that this is one of his top priorities?
Mary Portas: I do not think it is one of his top priorities.
Q73 Heather Wheeler: I am fascinated by the hard work that you have done and the encouragement that you have given to getting groups of people around the country to get together and to take on their high street and their community. That is very positive. How do you feel when you have other people now doing other reports? Bill Grimsey’s report is going to come out quite soon. This is trailed, because we will not know until Wednesday really what is in the paper, but from what has been trailed, do you think it is fair criticism that you have given too much hope to people, or do you think that, where it has really taken off, that is the right level of hope that people should have?
Mary Portas: I must have done something to Bill Grimsey in a former life. I cannot think what it is for the life of me. I think it is because I did not actually speak to him regarding my review. He was one of the people I left off, but anyway. I do not even know if it is about hope. Some things happen in life when we go down a path. It is like recycling. If someone had said to me 30 years ago, "You need to recycle because the knockon effect is going to be this," I would have recycled. What I have tried to do is highlight something that I think is a really important part of the way we live: the high street.
Now, I have seen Mr Grimsey’s headlines that it is dead; it is over. That does not sound like someone who really cares about the high street to me and the implications of that. I like to give hope, because I believe there is a way for the high street going forward, and I have seen it. There are towns where this has happened and people have got a thriving high street. That can happen across the country, whether you are Rochdale, Rotherham or the Sherborne high street that has an affluent surrounding. People deserve it. If that sounds like hope, I think that is a good thing.
Q74 Heather Wheeler: Do you think-and I honestly do not know whether this is too early a question to ask you-rather than sounding as though the two big beasts of the retail trade are sniping at each other, that you could work with Mr Grimsey to do something?
Mary Portas: That is a step too far. No, I am joking. I do not even know. I have read lots of reports-Mr Grimsey’s is not the only one-and there are some great ideas that I think we should be looking at and really pushing for change with. I am happy to work with anybody. When you get knocked consistently by him, you just think, "What is the problem? Are we really wanting to change, or do we want headlines?" Is he a friend of yours, by the way?
Heather Wheeler: No. I have shopped in Wickes, Focus and possibly Iceland as well, but they are all outoftowns really, are they not? Maybe Iceland is on the high street.
Mary Portas: I think he was busy liquidating them when I wanted to speak to him.
Heather Wheeler: No, he is not a friend of mine.
Andy Sawford: Certainly not now, Heather.
Q75 Heather Wheeler: I am sure it can be resolved. What I am interested in is where you have used gimmicks in the past, whether it is Peppa Pig or whatever it is, and the Forums have used them, to highlight a particular day or a week of a market or whatever. There has been a little bit of criticism of £1,600 spent on that and whether it was really worth it. Are you trying to get more of a genre going, more of a sort of upbeat, "it’s great for this week and therefore the knockon effect will come later," where it is not about the £1,600 for getting Peppa Pig in?
Mary Portas: No, what I am trying to give is a vision for what high streets could be. Peppa Pig again was the front page of the Independent and I spoke to the Dartford council on that. He said, "You know what we were trying to do there," because I cannot manage what they do with the money. It is not mine. That has to be down to local towns. He said, "We wanted to get more families into the town and, on the back of that, we did that." He said, "Not only that, I have been able to pull in £400,000 extra from businesses, because they have started to see an interest in the regeneration of the high street." In isolation, you think that looks a lot, but I cannot be the one to judge how an individual town works.
The most important thing is that these towns are given opportunities to do something and that that is not just taken away from them. Those are the people who are the stakeholders within towns. Having a say in what actually happens in their town and what happens on their high street is really important, because we have seen the impact of when high streets do die. The knockon effect to communities is negative, even to their house prices. If you pay tax in your town, I believe you should be empowered to have what is right within your town and that mix. Through that, some people are going to make mistakes; some are going to deliver some great stuff. I am not there to manage that or to judge that. I am just there to push for hoping to make change and to save what is a really important part of the British fabric of this country.
Q76 Heather Wheeler: To finish off then, you must come and see one of the most fantastic, successful market towns of Swadlincote in South Derbyshire, where we have free car parking, of course.
Mary Portas: Well done. I just want to say on that one, I was looking at some of the stuff, because we all do like to see about what the negatives are, and Market Rasen, which is a market town, since becoming a Portas town, has thrown 12 monthly markets. This was a town that did not have a market. It was called a market town and did not have a market. There are 12 monthly markets. They have won national awards. They have opened two community shops and created six new jobs. The money has also helped to reduce vacancy rates in the town by 50%. They have run the first ever arts and crafts festival, and support more than 40 producers, makers and artists. That is one of many.
What I have loved out of this is the fact that this has started to happen and people are doing this. It is terrific. I think that is a good thing. Can Government be doing more? Yes, we have talked about that. I would love to see this not being just about Government. I think about crossparty. Chuka Umunna was talking about some good things that he was doing, some initiatives and Independents’ Day. Why can we not join up the thinking and do this together? I would even have a conversation with Mr Grimsey.
Q77 Bob Blackman: Coming to Mr Grimsey, some of his ideas and some of your ideas on parking and transport in general, in your report you have suggested that towns should have a period of free parking. Mr Grimsey has suggested it should be two hours’ free parking, and the Government has come up with an innovative scheme of saying 15 minutes’ parking on doubleyellow lines would be allowed. What is your view on the Government proposals for 15 minutes’ parking on doubleyellow lines?
Mary Portas: Anything that enables you to go back into town has to be good. Again, it depends on what the town is. For example, I met with the council of Cornwall and I went to them about parking, because I was looking at Liskeard. I said, "Listen, please can we do this as a proposal?" The council said, "If you can ensure that you will make me the same amount of money that I have coming into my pot, I will do that." That is a shortterm view, as far as I am concerned.
Then you have somewhere like Braintree, where a great councillor said, "I am going to trial 10p after 3pm," and 55,000 extra cars came into that town. Even if you look at there being one person in those cars, which it probably would not be, that is an awful lot of extra footfall. What I would love to see the Forum doing is pulling that best practice together and then guiding towns on doing that, so local councillors who are trying to protect their funds can go, "Do you know what? I am going to take a risk and I am going to do that." I do not know if it is one size that fits all, but it is anything that enables people. If I think of the way that I consume, I would love the idea of being able to pull up in front of a shop for 15 minutes, pop in and get some dry cleaning. That is the way we live, so it is a good thing to do, but it cannot be just that oneoff.
Q78 Bob Blackman: There is clearly a difference between people who go and park in car parks and then parking immediately outside shops. At the moment, the Government’s proposal is on doubleyellow lines; it is not about designated car parking spaces. Do you think there should be a differential, for example, for people who go and park in car parks for two or three hours, whatever they have to pay, and people who pull up outside shops and pop in? Maybe they should get half an hour or an hour free of charge, just to do that quick shopping, so they can actually get the footfall through the shops.
Mary Portas: I think that is a good thing.
Bob Blackman: I am not saying if it is a good thing; I am just asking what your view is on that.
Mary Portas: That is a good thing. Is that compared to parking and staying in a town for a length of time? Is that what you are saying?
Q79 Bob Blackman: Yes, because clearly there is a difference between someone who says, "I am going to do shopping all day," or something and therefore occupy the car parking space.
Mary Portas: I do not think that central Government could affect the local parking laws, can they, across the country?
Bob Blackman: I am coming on to that in a minute.
Mary Portas: Help me out on that if you can, but I have to be careful, because I might sound naive and Mr Morris will have another go.
Q80 Bob Blackman: At the moment, car parking charges and the income that councils generate from car parking charges can only be used-they are ringfenced-to invest in roads or further car parking facilities, or maintenance of roads, etc. They cannot be used for investment in the high streets. Do you think that ringfence should be removed?
Mary Portas: I did not know that. If that is the case, why would they then look at freeing up? I did not know that; that is very interesting, in itself. All I do know is that they were a resource, money for local councils, and they are very scared to give that up. If it is only to go back into roads and it is not in any way affecting the high street, then obviously that is something that would need to be looked at, I would think.
Q81 Bob Blackman: The other alternative view from some local authorities and from some people-I do not agree with them, but that is another issue-is that you should actually be stopping people driving into town centres and people should come by public transport. Do you have a view on that argument?
Mary Portas: Yes, because a lot of people just will not come on public transport. If you are going to an outoftown supermarket, people are not coming on public transport. Most are coming in their cars. It is easy; it is accessible; I can go in and I can load up. I have stopped people coming out of them who said, "I would love to shop locally, but it is just not easy enough for me to do so." The real issue is parking. Absolutely, it is the one that has to be looked at, but it has to be looked at with experiment and trialling. Let us not forget that that is what pilots are about. They are not about, "Can we regenerate quickly within nine months?" That is not going to happen. Even to look at that is trivialising the issue to say it has not been turned around within a year. It is about trialling ideas, and coming from that, from pilots, is us learning and putting in best practice. That best practice is something that I would like to see being shared properly across all the different towns in this country.
Q82 John Pugh: I do not want to put words in your mouth, Mary, but would it be fair to say, judging by what you have said so far, that you have set out-
Mary Portas: I am over time now, am I not? What a shame, Dr Pugh.
John Pugh: Well, I am happy to proceed. Would it be fair to say that you set out to be an effective catalyst, but perhaps unfairly were asked to carry the can for a whole raft of initiatives, which are quite beyond your control, perhaps even by this Committee?
Mary Portas: It feels it. Yes, it does feel like that. I do not think anyone would set out to make me carry the can, apart from Mr Grimsey, it seems, but I do not think anybody did. I just think it has happened that way and that has been a learning for me.
Q83 John Pugh: Let us turn to markets, which we would all acknowledge used to be the core of many a town centre. There are, though, markets and markets, are there not? There is some feedback from retailers that a plethora of farm markets, things like that, and occasional popup markets, if you can call them that, is actually damaging to the retail environment. What is your take on that, because there is a difference between the established market and the market that comes into town and goes out again?
Mary Portas: No. It is really important to put things back onto the high street that people are wanting. There is a growth in that, because people are starting to want that. If that is a growth area, because consumers are wanting something that is not the internet, that is not a bland shopping experience, that is about congregating, that is about meeting, that is about going out and finding small things that you would not maybe get otherwise, then that is something we have to look at how we leverage. From the research that I have done and the work that I have looked at on markets, that has delivered footfall, which often has a knockon effect.
Take Broadway Market. I met the people who did that market. It took years to regenerate that market. Now, on the back of it, all the retail shops behind and all the cafes are really busy on a weekend. Often if you deliver a new type of footfall, what happens is that retail comes on the back of that. I have yet to see any statistics that show that markets affect retail in a negative way.
Q84 John Pugh: What about popup shops? Do you see them as a temporary expedient during the recession or, as it were, a permanent feature of the future high street?
Mary Portas: We will see that happening. What is great about popups is that we will see people experimenting, and experimenting is a very good thing. From that, new businesses will come. That also gives people an opportunity to go into retail in a way they did not. It is like the old market stall. That is where people started. That is where Marks & Spencer started, and look at them today. Popups are our equivalent to that and are a good thing, whatever way it happens. Also, it is newness that drives people to towns.
Q85 John Pugh: Finally, you said you have read a lot of reports. Are you aware that this Committee actually did a report on markets and have you read it?
Mary Portas: No. Oh dear.
Chair: It was some time ago.
Mary Portas: No, I have not read it. Sorry.
John Pugh: I recommend it.
Chair: What you should have done is ask members of the Committee if they had read it. It was some time ago.
Q86 Mark Pawsey: Mary, I am conscious you have given us lots of your time. We spoke about the threat or the problem of business rates earlier. The other big threat to high street trading is online. Do you think that online is an opportunity or a threat to the town centre?
Mary Portas: Gosh. Obviously, online is serving the needs of people today, and that is a threat because it has become so sophisticated. I do think that there are ways to really cocreate with online in a new way. Actually, some of the big businesses have not worked out how to do that yet. I went to one town, Loughborough, and interestingly the pub became one of the most successful parts of Loughborough. It realised it had a university nearby and that they were booking all their clothes and buying online and they had nowhere to pick it up from, so they became a deposit. All of the university students would come in, have a drink and pick up their stuff. It was the busiest pub in town. How clever is that?
Mark Pawsey: You referred to that as a new post office, I think.
Mary Portas: It is the new post office in the pub. You are not only helping the pub to stay there. There are lots of new ideas that could be done for online. We have to embrace it. I would like to see the towns going online, so that people know what activities are happening in their town. There are lots of new ways to embrace online, but at the heart of it, and this is really important never to forget, people still want to go outside their homes and outside the computer to experience their towns and their place.
Q87 Mark Pawsey: I think in your figures you said 10%-but it is probably bigger than that, 13%-of retail trade is now online and being delivered to the home. Do you accept that that means you need 10% or 13% fewer shops? Are we, KingCanutelike, trying to preserve our town centres at their current size when there is really no point?
Mary Portas: No, because as I said it does not necessarily have to be about retail. That is what the high street does. The mix will be much less about that. Even if someone had told us 15 years ago about the proliferation of coffee shops, we would not have believed that, as a country, we would be spending so much there, but it happened, we wanted it and it was actually quite visionary. There will be an element of what we do not even know. There will be an element of not even knowing what effect online will have on consumers in the next five years. I have forgotten your question.
Q88 Mark Pawsey: Are you offering support to local councils, which say they are going to defend the size of their town centre in the face of the online threat? My suggestion is that you need fewer shops.
Mary Portas: Yes, fewer shops, so the mix will be different and I will be looking at putting other things back onto the high street that had to move off the high street, because the change drove in and moved them out, because they could not get on there. Let us look at how we can bring those back. I went to a little place just outside Rugby, where the Somali community-
Mark Pawsey: That is a great place to have been to.
Mary Portas: Is it not amazing? Is that you? By the way, Dr Pugh, that was another one in my own time. I am not too sure how I can put that each day. I went to a little Somali community. It was amazing. They had their church in the middle of their high street. Theirs was the buzziest part, because that was important to them, and then they would meet, sit and have a coffee, then go into the local store to buy their stuff. You saw how these communities had built what was important to them. Some of the Polish communities in Bedminster are starting to do that, which is really exciting.
It is very difficult to do one brushstroke across it all, but it is looking at different ways. Some councils find that very difficult. If you are a councillor, how will you start to think in that way? What will be the new anchors on our high street? Where I am it is a yoga centre. That is where I am, and I will not say where that is, because I will come across as a bit of a luvvie, but it is a yoga centre and that is what everybody piles into. On the back of it, the shops and the cafes work really well, because that has become the main anchor.
Q89 Mark Pawsey: You want councils to open their eyes a bit. They are a bit stereotyped, doing things the same way. Is your report making them think in different ways?
Mary Portas: Take risks. Make them think in different ways, take risks and trial new ideas. That is hopefully what comes out of the pilots. We have seen some of that that has worked. I have given you the example of Market Rasen and the example of Warwick. We have seen some, as Mr Danczuk told me, that have not worked so well. That is what pilots are about.
Q90 Chair: Finally, to summarise, when you are at your most tired and frustrated-
Mary Portas: He has read up about that. Mr Morris has told you about that, hasn’t he?
Chair: What do you think high streets might become in 15 years’ time? When you are at your more optimistic, what do you think they actually can become?
Mary Portas: When I am both together, I think what they will probably be is multifunctional. People will talk about "going to town", rather than "I’m going shopping". "I’m going into town," and that will have lots of different meanings to them. It could be teenagers going to a fashion market or where they are trading clothes, where they are upcycling and trading clothes, because we have new teenagers who are really thinking about how they consume. That is very different from when I was a child. There will be elements of that. Food will definitely be a big part of it and there will be a lot of that. There will hopefully be leisure activities that will be happening on the high street. That will be a big part of it, and what will happen is there will be new cocreated businesses that we would not have expected. It will not be just about one store; it will be about three or four different businesses coming together to create new types of retail and new destinations. That is my dream and I think it can be achieved, but it will require support and guidance, from wherever that comes.
Chair: Thank you very much indeed for coming this afternoon and giving evidence to us.