Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Grocer on Mary Portas', Margate and what the FOIs reveal - The high-street circus continues

Fresh in from the Grocer Magazine:
"The Mary Portas road show continues: this week the Queen of the High Street’s Channel 4 show touched down in Margate, featuring yet more cockneys, market traders and claims of TV trickery. 
After last week’s episode in the Roman Road, which was not even a Portas Pilot, at least Mary was in the right place - although the jury is well and truly out about whether her presence has had the desired impact.
Within hours of broadcast, members of the original Margate town team – who walked out in protest last year, accusing Portas of being more interested in TV than in saving their shops – had announced they would be complaining to Ofcom about the show ‘fabricating’ events.
This came hours after Portas went on Radio Five to explain how she felt she had been misadvised in her handling of the ‘Tsar’ role and had inadvertently ended up as public enemy number one. You couldn’t really make it up if you were to sit down and write a guide of how not to run a government programme to save the High Street.
The sad fact is all the good ideas Portas and her review had in 2011are in danger of being drowned out by this side show, while so little has actually been done on the ground.
In the case of Margate, a freedom of information (FOI) request seen by The Grocer shows just £2,156.21 of the £100,000 of taxpayers’ money given to the town had been spent as of the end of March.
This isn’t even the biggest tragedy. The solution to the High Street isn’t a quick fix, solved by throwing money around. It needs strategic thinking at government level, adapted by well co-ordinated local initiatives. Instead, information in FOIs seen by The Grocer is painful to behold. It reveals the incredible extent to which the government – and especially former local government minister Grant Shapps and his team – allowed its policy on the high street to be dictated by Portas and her TV crew.
In one email from Portas’ team to the minister’s cronies, the plight of Liskeard, next week’s chosen subject for the show, is highlighted. The scene, we discover, is perfect. Local councillors and residents are at each other’s throats, not least over plans for an out-of-town supermarket. “In TV terms the fight between the bureaucrats and the passionate citizens could be great,” says the email.
This is an email to the government department supposed to be helping rescue the High Street. It’s beyond belief almost that this sort of nonsense was the way the department was being run.
It gets even worse: in other correspondence between the two camps, the government team was asked to advise the Queen of Shops on a small problem. She had been contacted by the Welsh Assembly for help in tackling ailing shops. “Pls could you ask Grant for his advice on engaging or not,” says the Portas team. “We haven’t really got the time but would like your help with how to deal with this.”
The government’s advice: “It really is up to you. But if you are too busy, I would suggest you just say that Mary is very busy at the moment - and not currently engaged by Her Majesty's Government - but is keeping in touch with Department of Local Government (DCLG) officials as we implement our response to her report.” So not just one government but two have been drawn into this circus, with the DCLG acting virtually as her new political adviser to fend off the Welsh. It would all be funny – a bit like some of the scenes from the TV show – if it weren’t so tragic."
Ian Quinn


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Louise, why don't you just let it go and write it off as experience? There is so much you could be doing for Margate but instead you're in danger of becoming a laughing stock.

  3. It sounds as though the original bid team were seriously disrespected and undermined. If Thanet residents want thriving communities, then I think commentators do need to think about what is needed for that to happen?