Tom Richmond: Why I just don’t buy Minister’s ‘room at the shop’ brainwave

Mary Portas
Mary Portas
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SOME advice to the rail companies – how about looking after passengers by enforcing an etiquette policy?

NICK Boles is a better qualified planning Minister than most – his father Sir Jack was head of the National Trust from 1975-83.

As a politician, however, he is proving to be a tease. He talks tough about onshore wind farms and the need to protect the green belt, only for it to emerge that the resulting changes to planning rules lack some of the clarity that Boles had envisaged.

His interventions led me to conclude some time ago that he likes the sound of his own voice because he believes that this is the quickest way to climb the Ministerial ladder.

I’m even more convinced of this after Boles went public with his latest policy wheeze. This is the idea to convert empty town centre shops into homes after the Department of Communities and Local Government appeared to accept that high streets of the past are unlikely to make a comeback – even if economic growth this year continues to outstrip expectations.

At first glance, it is an eminently sensible move: the number of empty shop premises can make or break a high street’s reputation. It does not take long before the closure of several stores sends out the message that the town in question is closed for business.

Yet, while the Boles blueprint will work in country towns or small villages, how does he intend it to work in Yorkshire’s major cities like Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford and Hull, for example?

No one in their right mind would want to live in a converted shop in an area where revellers are drinking all night because of the previous government’s relaxation of licensing laws.

It’s just a non-starter, hence why Boles and his colleagues need to go back to the drawing board and look at other ways of regenerating high streets rather than hiring the enthusiastic retail guru Mary Portas, who was marginalised when she started to tell politicians to pull their fingers out.

My idea? Retain existing double yellow lines – they exist to protect road safety and prevent congestion – but implore councils to cut parking charges rather than use the benevolence of motorists as a “cash-cow” to prop up town hall finances.

The consequence? More people using their high street rather than the out-of-town shopping mall lined with the big chains. And try and find ways to convert empty shops into community facilities, farmers’ markets and so on, possibly with incentives for landlords who co-operate.

The problem is that this will require the Minister to roll up his sleeves when the priority of Nick Boles is clearly his next sound bite ahead of this autumn’s expected reshuffle.

EVEN though the Lib Dem crusade for electoral reform was rejected by voters, Nick Clegg’s party is now looking to a secret weapon to help make the case for proportional representation – Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

Their argument is this. They expect Ukip to top the polls in next year’s European elections, but believe that Farage’s party – dubbed “Nigel’s barmy army” by some – will struggle to make a significant breakthrough in the 2015 Westminster election, especially as the Tories are intent on denying their Eurosceptic opponents the oxygen of publicity.

They believe that Ukip could poll around 12 per cent of the vote and have no representation in Parliament, or just a token MP.

If this happens, the Lib Dems believe that the right-wing – including the Daily Mail – will consider this to be a snub to Ukip and start to embrace the concept of electoral reform and fair votes.

The problem for Clegg, the Sheffield Hallam MP, is that Godfrey Bloom – one of this region’s Euro MPs – revealed Ukip’s true colours this week with his “Bongo Bongo Land” rant that is likely to accelerate, still further, the party’s slide down the opinion polls.

PREDICTABLY, Labour has denounced the Government for encouraging zero-hours contracts which it wants outlawed.

Yet which council has 2,759 staff employed under this arrangement? Yes, you’ve guessed it. Labour-controlled Doncaster Council. And the local MP? Correct again. Opposition leader Ed Miliband.

THERE seems to be no let up in the anti-government sentiment of the BBC, a theme of last week’s column.

I’ve lost count of the occasions when the corporation’s political correspondents used the phrase “I think” in news reports.

Imagine my disbelief then when political reporter Louise Stuart was asked about the practicalities of the Government’s latest tax changes on childchare – and began her answer with “Labour says”.

TALKING of the BBC, there has been no let up in the number of former players being remunerated generously to provide expert analysis on Test Match Special during the Ashes.

As well as Geoffrey Boycott, who is never backward when it comes to pointing out the generosity of the BBC’s remuneration, the last Ashes Test saw ex-England captain Michael Vaughan, the veteran Vic Marks and ex-Australian player Damien Martyn giving their views for one 30-minute stint in each two hour session of play.

Luckily for them – but not the taxpayer – they were rarely heard on sister station Radio Five Live, which had recruited England stalwart Alec Stewart to go in to bat.

Further proof that the BBC has as much financial discipline as the Labour party.

A MORAL dilemma. Should the Department of Work and Pensions come to the rescue of former England footballer Kenny Sansom, who was discovered living in a gutter after squandering a king’s fortune on gambling and alcohol – or should the mega-rich Professional Footballers’ Association be made to look after its own?

After all, if the DWP does step in with Sansom, then it will have to do so when the alcoholic Paul Gascoigne goes on his next binge. While not wanting to kick a man when he’s down, I’m sure William Beveridge did not envisage the welfare system being used in such instances when it was devised 70 years ago.

SOME advice to the rail companies – how about looking after passengers by enforcing an etiquette policy?

On the Northern train home from Leeds the other day, the guard ignored those “slobs” with their feet stretched out on the opposite seat – and the young, middle-aged person sitting in the space reserved for pensioners and the disabled – while others stood in the aisle.

But it was not as bad as the morning commuter train from Guiseley to Leeds and the DWP civil servant who had taken up two seats with his laptop and briefcase.

Asked if he could move his computer, he just said he “was busy working” ahead of a meeting. He only moved when questioned whether he had bought two tickets – one for him and one for his laptop.

While enforcement is not easy, something needs to be done to put the respectful and courteous passenger back in the driving seat...