Mary Portas was appointed by Steve Hilton in David Cameron’s office, to look at how we might revive the British high street. Most of the country is desperate to regenerate the high street, she believes and she’s speaking in a town where feelings are running high on that subject. The people of Hay, perhaps as many as 85% are opposed to the arrival of a new supermarket, which Portas was careful not to name, but is known to be Tesco.
She has spoken to the campaigners leading ‘Plan B for Hay’ and is clearly sympathetic and supportive. Her views nationally and their’s locally are clearly aligned. She does however express some concern as to whether ultimately the people of Hay can have an effect.
Portas turns to the question of manufacturing and acknowledges that we will never match the capacity of India and China to produce low cost high volume clothing but she points out that designer manufacturing has also moved offshore from the UK. She believes that with the right strategy we could bring as much as 30% of fashion manufacturing back to the UK, but we only have 10 years in which to do it before we lose our native skills. She tells us how delighted she was to hire a former seamstress for her Kinky Knickers project who had been stacking shelves for Tesco.
Internet has replaced mediocre retailers and for many chains has reduced their need to be in as many places. We need to better define what the high street is for. Last year’s rioters were people with no sense of belonging, we need to create community by turning high streets into multi functional civic places.
Portas shows us a short film about Margate, which shows just how far decline of the high street can go – she will be working with Margate to attempt to arrest that decline an involve the retailers are the core “decision making should be the responsibility of the people of that town”.
She believes she is making inroads with the government but some of her more radical proposals are “still under review”. The scale of her task is brought into sharp relief when she mentions that on her visits to number 10 she is “always bumping into the head of publicity and marketing for Tesco”.
She finishes with a quote from Gandhi relayed to her by David who drove her to Hay “be the change you want to see”.