Mary Portas hits back over lobbying claims

Kasmira Jefford
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RETAIL expert Mary Portas yesterday hit back at critics of her review of the high streets and rejected claims that she had lobbied the government to pick Portas Pilots towns that would be popular with TV audiences.

When asked by one member of the communities and local government select committee yesterday whether, together with her television company, she had tried to influence bids for pilot towns “to make good TV that would pay her a handsome fee”, Portas said it was “absolutely not the case”.

“I have not influenced TV and do not get involved in what the production company are doing and made the TV programme because I believed this was a very important issue,” she said.

Portas, who was being questioned by MPs on the progress of her review to save the UK’s ailing town centres since its was published 18 months ago, also said it was unfair that she had taken a “bashing” for a review she carried for free for the government.
“There have been times when I have been answerable to the press and the government have been silent and I would have liked a little more support,” she said.

Since her blueprint was published the government has granted millions of pounds in grants to individual town centres – known as Portas Pilot towns – but critics say the number of empty units in target towns has actually risen.

The former Iceland chief executive Bill Grimsey will tomorrow publish his own retail report showing that one in eight British shops could go out of business within three years. Portas said the vacancies “were a wave we saw coming” and that reviving the high street will take years.