High Street Revival 'Has Shown Little Impact'
The self-titled "Queen of Shops" has come under fire after her Government-backed bid to revive the High Street has shown little impact.
Wolverhampton was one of 12 town centres chosen to pilot retail guru Mary Portas' High Street revival. It got a £100,000 share of the £1.2m in funding.
That helped finance the opening of five retail outlets. Three of them have been a success, one has diversified, and the fifth went under.
Nick Pitt, manager of the local shopping centre, chaired the Wolverhampton Portas Project. He sees it as a success for the town centre.
"A hundred thousand pounds is good value. And it rallied businesses around to come together in a very selfless way to help people get into business," he told Sky News.
"It was quite a humbling experience. I see people who'd never had the opportunity before to have their own shop and now they have.
"And those people are still helping us now to help other people get into business. And we're determined to do it again."
The celebrity trouble shooter was brought in by the Government two years ago to breathe new life into our struggling High Streets.
But some of her key recommendations, like a reduction in business rates and free parking, were ignored.
Labour MP and chair of the Government's Business Select Committee, Adrian Bailey, is critical of the scheme, saying: "Overall, and I would emphasise it time and time again, you will not change the basic problems of the High Street just by putting in these sort of pilots.
"You've got to change the business rates and those obstacles which are deterring people from moving into the High Street in order to provide an imaginative variety of retail offers that people will want to buy into."
Mary Portas was not available for interview, but her CEO David Wood issued a statement to Sky News on her behalf.
It said: "We think there's some justified criticism of the way Government originally implemented the programme and the lack of infrastructure to support the town teams.
"There's also justified criticism of the way the majority of the recommendations were accepted but nothing was done - for example we spoke in the report about parking, business rates, landlords, town-centre-first planning approvals and the like but little was done."
Penny Maudaunt, the newly appointed High Streets Minister, says the scheme has been successful.
"There has been a huge amount of really good work that's gone on locally," she said.
"The pilots have been experiments. There have been a lot of good ideas, some ideas that may not have worked so well, but there are a number of ideas that have worked very well for particular areas and what we have to do is replicate that in other High Streets."
But many businesses say the areas that need tackling are the very ones that Ms Portas highlighted months ago, and which the Government ignored.