Bill Grimsey urges £550m levy to aid high street in alternative to Portas plan


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The Independent Online

The veteran retailer Bill Grimsey has called on national retail and leisure chains to come to the rescue of ailing high streets by pumping £550m into a local economic development fund via a one-off levy in 2014.

Mr Grimsey, the former boss of DIY chain Wickes, has recommended that retailers and pub groups with UK turnover of more than £10m, such as Tesco and JD Wetherspoon, should pay 0.25 per cent of one year’s UK sales into this fund to help sponsor start-ups.

This is one of 31 recommendations in his Grimsey Review, which sets out an “alternative future” for the high street to the report published by the retail expert Mary Portas, the self-styled Queen of Shops, in December 2011. His report includes demands that local authorities freeze car parking charges for a minimum of 12 months; making it compulsory for all “mega mall” developments to create a percentage of affordable space for local traders or market stall pitches; and switching the business rates multiplier from the retail prices index to an annualised consumer prices measure.

Mr Grimsey, who also ran frozen food chain Iceland and led the DIY retailer Focus when it folded in 2011, said: “I honestly think the time has come for the big chains to put something back and help redesign the high street.”

He added: “What we’ve seen in a lot of secondary town centre locations is that as the chains move out to more lucrative out-of-town sites, they’re hollowing out the high street.”

He said the Government had only spent about £20m on high street initiatives, so his one-off tax would create a “powerful fighting fund of around £550m that could make a massive difference”. As Britain’s biggest retailer, Tesco would have to contribute more than £120m to such a fund, based on its UK turnover of £48bn last year.

While Company Watch, the credit specialist, says 47 per cent of the retailers it has analysed are “at risk” of failure other analysts note the UK still has 820 shopping malls and 1,340 retail parks.

Speaking to the Communities and Local Government Committee in Parliament yesterday, Ms Portas defended her own review. She cited Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, one of the 27 so-called Portas Pilots, which each received up to £100,000 to revitalise their high street. She said the town now had 12 monthly markets, new jobs and shop vacancy rates down by 50 per cent. She also could not resist a dig at Mr Grimsey, who has been critical of her efforts, and said: “I must have done something to Bill Grimsey in a former life … it must be that I didn’t speak to him about my review.”