Travel agencies with large retail estates could be asked to contribute a one-off levy to raise £550 million to help revive Britain’s high streets.
The proposal for the charge on major retail and leisure chains is being put forward by former Focus and Iceland boss Bill Grimsey, who is fronting a review into the plight of town centres.
He is calling on national chains with a turnover of more than £10 milion to invest 0.25% of one year’s UK sales from 2014 – about £550 million between them – into a local economic development fund to help sponsor start-ups and new ventures that could entice shoppers back to local high streets.
Tui Travel and Thomas Cook are among the travel companies which could fall into the bracket.
The fund would dwarf the £18 million the government has spent on high street initiatives, including 24 “Portas pilots” which each received £100,000 grants to improve their town centres. Nearly 330 town teams have been handed smaller grants.
“I honestly think the time has come for the big chains to put something back and help redesign the high street,” Grimsey told The Guardian.
“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.”
Every local area should also set up a town centre commission to produce a 20-year vision for their high street, supported by costed, five-year business plans, according to Grimsey, who is leading a group of eight industry experts who have put together an alternative review to that by Mary Portas.
He dismissed Portas’s effort as “little more than a PR stunt” as he produced 31 recommendations including changes to business rates and more defined targets for town centre teams, which should be co-ordinated with all local planning decisions.
Grimsey’s group also endorsed more short-term ideas such as discounts for businesses moving into empty shops and a freeze on rates in 2014.
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