High Street gets a new champion

Grimsey review imageBill Grimsey, the former Wickes and Iceland CEO has presented his plans to help our hurting high streets. He’s offering pragmatic options to revitalise our town centres. He’s none too pleased with previous initiatives and hopes to persuade politicians that plenty can and should be done rather than bemoan the demise.

Many voices say click and collect will be a crutch that can generate footfall. Whilst that’s true to a small degree, I think it’s a flawed suggestion: folks using that service are seeking convenience so are less likely to mill around the high street where they couldn’t be bothered to look in the first place. The tactic may well work in France but that’s more a solution to a rural problem that lacks a comprehensive delivery network. Also, I think it’s fair to say the Enterprise Finance Guarantee (EFG) isn’t working as well as planned.

Whilst I’m a Mary Portas believer and fanboy, I fear history will paint her part in this as PR rather positive outcomes. You almost get the impression that a Number 10 think tank asked Mrs Beckham, Jamie Redknapp and Jordan first as they’ve got more Twitter followers. Were we meant to sit back, comfortable in the knowledge that Channel 4 has got it all covered? Well perhaps a Sherlock/Derren Brown/Paxman hybrid would have the gravitas to pull off a victory here, but Sugar, Portas, et al aren’t all powerful or eminently qualified to calm any sea.

This problem is conceptually and financially enormous. It demands a steering group of highly experienced, virtuoso retailers with the drive to see through change in adverse conditions. Bank of Dave was a great example of getting *stuff* launched outside of the red tape world of councils, and Grimsey’s report has that feel about it.

The mini executive summary:

1. Write defined targets and measures
2. a structured framework and timetable from Government
3. Local people combined with coordination, guidance and management are vital
4. Creativity and innovation to be encouraged

It’s a romantic pipe dream that the ~40,000 stores currently empty in the UK can be re-let with new retailers. There’s simply not the demand. We’re not going back to how it was pre-Google, so it’s a question of how we want these areas to become and who will lead that? I vote for multifaceted high streets that incorporate a hub solution (as the report calls it). I’ve sounded off about this before and agree with Grimsey firmly.

I can’t help but think there will be a group of determined individuals in one particular town or borough that become a poster child for how things can change. They will drive the politicians, not the other way around. They’ll come up with a host of consolidated initiatives, win over the local council, cut through bureaucracy, get buy in from their community and make a positive change. This will become a model/framework that others follow, adapt to their geography and improve upon.

It’s a multifaceted problem that doesn’t have a simple three point solution but has Grimsey got it in 31 instead?

The only thing he missed is this very applicable quote from Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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