Donald Macintyre’s Sketch: Portas the prophet of profits brings her high-street cred to the Commons


Every age has its prophets. Ancient society had its augurers, soothsayers, seers. The 21st century has its shopping gurus. Like Mary Portas, her mythical predecessor Cassandra had flaming red hair; unlike her she was tragically believed by no one. The readers of Ms Portas’s weekly retail reviews, the viewers of her television programmes, the followers of her tweets have gratefully hung on her every word. She is a prophet celebrated in her own era. 

At least that was how it seemed until she obligingly compiled for David Cameron – “in my own time” and “free of charge” as she repeatedly assured the Communities and Local Government Select Committee yesterday – her 2011 Independent Review into the future of the high street, and discovered controversy for the first time. Sometimes, she said, she wished she’d never put her name on it “because I’ve taken a huge bashing for work I did for nothing which is quite simply unfair,” and because the report – a “catalyst for change” – is “something that’s had enormous traction”.

To be fair, Ms Portas became less martyred as the session wore on. And the “huge bashing” had climaxed in the previous 24 hours when her rival guru, former Iceland boss Bill Grimsey, had called her plans to revive the country’s town centres “nostalgic” and “little more than a PR stunt”.

Yesterday, she gave as good as she got: “I must have done something to Bill Grimsey in a former life. I think it’s because I didn’t actually speak to him regarding my review. He’s one of the people I left off. I’ve seen Mr Grimsey’s headlines that it’s dead, it’s over. That does not sound like someone who really cares about the high street to me.”

She said she had wanted to give “hope” by showing there was a “way forward” for high streets “and there were already towns where this has happened and people have a thriving high street.” Would she work with Mr Grimsey, whose own well-leaked blueprint will this week suggest that a 0.25 per cent tax levy by companies with a turnover of more than £10m would create a £500m development fund to sponsor town centres and start-ups, and will call for a minister for high streets?

Well, she would work “with anyone” with ideas for reviving town centres, but “when you get knocked by him consistently you just think, what’s the problem? Do we really want to change or do we want headlines?”

Ms Portas insisted: “I am not the saviour of the high street, I cannot do this on my own. I am the champion of it… I do this because I believe in high streets and I believe they are an important social infrastructure.” And she would have liked some more support from government in “navigating” the criticism. “I suppose I wasn’t used to politics.”

While not actually disavowing the famous “Portas Pilots” – some of which had failed to spend most of their funding – she pointed out: “I don’t work for Portas Pilots… it’s not my scheme, they are a government initiative.” So what about Dartford council, which had spent £1,600 on hiring someone in a Peppa Pig costume featured prominently, as Ms Portas acknowledged yesterday, in this newspaper?  

Well she was not responsible for the way councils spent their money but she had spoken to Dartford about that, and they had said that not only had Peppa brought families into the town centre, but the pilot had helped to generate £400,000 from businesses who saw “the interest in the regeneration of the high street”. Peppa rehabilitated! That was a result.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map