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Putting the innovation into the high street

Having ruminated on it for nearly a week, I think now is the time for me to share how I think improving the use of the High Street Innovations Fund is key to ensuring that High Streets at the Heart of our Communities, the government’s response to the Portas Review, leaves a lasting legacy.

At Action for Market Towns, we analysed the government’s response to consider the benefits it can bring to local authorities and community and business-based partnerships. Grading the government’s response out of 100 in the style of a school report, we gave it a score of 55% for its immediate impact but this could increase greatly in the short-term if the proposed High Street Innovation Fund is used to test and develop recommendations to restore empty shops.

I know it is hard for a government to back track and some of the consternation caused by the fund’s announcement cannot be undone. Not great that an apparent hand-out to 100 councils was announced on the same day that 350 budding ‘town teams’ submitted competive bids for 12 ‘golden tickets’. Or that allocations of £100,000 were based on seemingly spurious data that meant Rickmansworth got the cash with two empty shops and Rochdale didn’t with 45 vacant units. And what is the logic in giving Redditch and Birmingham the same amount?

But there is still a chance to salvage much of the legacy of the Portas Review, by linking the distribution of the £10million High Street Innovations Fund; to exactly what it suggests: genuine and transferable High Street innovation. If receipt of funding was conditional on working with a town team; addressing and testing the specifics in Portas’ five recommendations on empty shops; and monitoring and sharing the results, maybe even some of the losers from the process would be more supportive of the intent. We have lots of ideas and examples to help councils with this.

As I say all too frequently to my kids; it’s not how you get in to a mess but how you get out of it that counts! So come on CLG and Grant Shapps; it might be too late to go backwards but can we find an innovative way forward!

  • Chris Wade is chief executive of Action for Market Towns.

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