Comment: Tangible results not pilot schemes needed for UK towns and cities
Unhelpful planning laws, high rents, ridiculous parking charges and poor access to finance from banks is the backcloth that our smaller retailers exist in, whilst trying to remain competitive against the high street retail giants.
Wonderful then that schemes like Portas Pilots are trying to do something for them, but there is more thinking needed here if tangible results are to come from these schemes.
In my opinion, there’s not enough money per town to make a difference in the Portas Pilots scheme. Circa £100k is simply not enough. This will achieve little more than a combination of a discount on parking, new Christmas lights, a paint job for the worse buildings and some street furniture for the most run down areas.
Unless the town team’s ideas are watertight with tangible ways to improve the retail environment – chances are the £100k won’t go very far. This scheme runs the risk of being a sticking plaster project or even worse - a demotivational act in the long run for longer-suffering retailers.
I don’t know the size of the pot of money for retailers, but let’s say it was £1 million, couldn’t this have been better spent at a national level on a scheme that incentivised customers to buy?
Perhaps it could be given directly to the businesses to be used as a rebate scheme, where customers go to the butchers and spend £25 and get a £5 off voucher to be redeemed during repeat visits. This way, it would only cost the Government money when the vouchers are redeemed and the retailers are making extra sales! This is just one way to use this money pot to create actual sales – something that probably won’t be that evident in the Portas Pilots scheme.
Even more simple and engaging would be a scheme that directly incentivises customers, where they could print off a voucher online and the Government would reimburse the retailer direct. Australia did this, and simply gave its citizens a cash incentive to shop when its economy dipped - as did the King of Kuwait.
The Portas Pilots scheme is going to give each town a makeover – when what is actually needed is a sales promotion that will help to literally put the money back into the shop tills.
Local Government Minister Grant Shapps should be coming up with these ideas, and not just relying on Mary Portas. After all, getting people spending direct would be good for VAT generation and good for keeping the businesses open, keeping people in employment and providing a much needed stimulation for the economy.
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