Government sets up retail panel to ‘diagnose’ high street challenges

Sir John Timpson, chairman of dry cleaner and shoe repair service Timpsons, will lead a new panel of experts appointed by the Government to advise on how best to revitalise dying UK high streets.

The panel will include former director-general of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Stephen Robertson as well as influential community and social impact groups and urban regeneration expert Eric Reynolds.

Their task will be to advise on the “best practical measures” to turn around the decline of British town centres and help high streets adapt to meet changing consumer expectations.

The initiative comes less than two weeks after veteran retailer and former chief executive of Wickes and Iceland Bill Grimsey launched a damning review of the state of our high streets, saying they could be “consigned to the dustbin of history” if they are not reshaped into social hubs, anchored by public spaces.

High Streets Minister Jake Berry MP said: “High streets and small businesses are the backbone of our economy and we want to see them thrive now and in the future.

“People care about their local high streets because they are the centres of their community. But our high streets are changing, and the Government is committed to helping communities adapt.

“High streets of the future will still be commercial centres, but consumers now look for a wider range of experiences, from leisure to health services. Our future high streets may well feature more homes, childcare centres and gyms to bring people back and ensure that they keep returning.”

Sir John said the panel could not offer “an instant, quick-fix solution” to the huge threats to the high street from online competition and out-of-town retail parks.

But he said that the panel “hopes to identify practical and commonsense” solutions that “will help the Government provide the support that local communities and businesses need to provide the leisure and shopping facilities people will want 25 years from now.”

Later this summer, the expert panel, in conjunction with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), will put out a call for evidence seeking what members of the public and young people in particular want from the high streets of the future.

No timescales were mentioned and it is unclear what the Government will do with the findings.

The Kitchen Bathroom Buying Group (KBBG) welcomed the news, urging the panel to come up with “bold and innovative” ideas that could quickly be put into action.

“All too often this type of Government-driven enterprise comes to nothing,” said KBBG managing director Bill Miller.

“The High Street is so important to the health of our towns and cities and is vital to the success of many of our independent kitchen and bathroom retailers.”

The owner of Simply Kitchens UK in Plymouth praised the Government for giving the issue “some long-overdue focus”.

“I bleated on in my last communication about the need for high streets to diversify and to modernise, so it is nice to read that plans include consultation with communities and in particular young people to understand how they see the future of their communities and high streets,” Nathan Hopper said.

He called on the Government to consider the kind of support that could be offered to entrepreneurs who could benefit from the spaces on the high street left vacant by retailers moving out of town – not just financial but mentoring too.

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