12 towns around the country were given a share of the £1.2 million grant as part of a Government-backed scheme headed up by the high profile retail guru, who was charged with transforming them into busy retail hubs.
Figures recently published by the Local Data company have shown that far from being turned around, the towns in question have lost one in five of their shops. This is a similar state of decline seen on other high streets nationwide according to data from research analyst Retail Futures.
A survey for BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours found that the “Portas Pilot” towns have dwindled as struggling shops could not be saved from closure.
The towns – Bedford, Croydon, Dartford, Greater Bedminster, Liskeard, Margate, Market Rasen, Nelson, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Stockport, Stockton-on-Tees and Wolverhampton – have seen 969 retail units close in the past five years. This represents a fall of 17 per cent and amounts to one shop closing every 22 days.
Portas has claimed the Government used her campaign as a PR stunt designed to give the impression that real efforts were being made to support and regenerate high street retailing, and disguise the lack of real policy making in this area.
The self-styled “Queen of Shops” urged Chancellor Phillip Hammond to scrap business rates, warning that the recent increases to this hugely unpopular tax might force one in three shops to close.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph Portas said: “We need real policy change. Business needs to be at the heart of planning as the Government decides what kind of country we want to live in because the high street is the heart of every community. With rising wages and increased import costs rates is the one area that can be sorted out by Government.”