For, despite Sir John calling for a community-driven approach and changes to the planning system, the response of Jake Berry, the High Street Minister, smacked of ‘gesture politics’ at a time when many stores are fighting for their survival.
“We have already taken action,” he declared before citing cuts to business rates that were announced in the last Budget. And then, with reference to Sir John’s report, he added: “We will carefully consider these recommendations.”
Where’s the urgency? Having sought expert advice by commissioning this review, Ministers should be working overtime to make it easier for new micro-businesses to be set up and empty premises converted into homes.
Time is not on the Government’s side. Thanks to the prevailing uncertainty over Brexit, and the growing influence and pricing strategies of online retailers, this will be a dispiriting Christmas for many retailers.
They can’t wait until Mr Berry – or another Minister – dusts down the report at some future date. By then, it will be too late – and Sir John’s report will, just like the review undertaken by Mary Portas around a decade ago, come to be regarded as a wasted opportunity.
What Mr Berry should be doing – without delay – is implementing Sir John’s report and heeding the advice of retail gurus like Yorkshire’s very own Kate Hardcastle who says each community needs to utilise local knowledge and external experts “who can help create commercial change” that meets the needs of workers, visitors and residents alike. Such an approach is central to the Love Your High Street campaign that has been spearheaded by The Yorkshire Post.
If Mr Berry doesn’t feel able to advance this agenda because of his dual role as Northern Powerhouse Minister, he should make way for someone who can. After all, ‘lip service’ will never be a sustainable strategy.