Mary Portas calls for discounts at local shops

Former high street tsar calls for discounts at local shops – Mary Portas: ‘Revive small retailers with shop out to help out plan’

Mary Portas has issued a plea to the Government to lift family-run stores with a ‘Shop Out to Help Out’ scheme as lockdown is lifted, The Mail on Sunday can reveal. 

The Government’s former high street tsar has joined fashion and beauty entrepreneurs Henry Holland and Charlotte Tilbury, throwing her weight behind the scheme as town centre shops prepare to reopen on April 12. 

The proposal echoes Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme last August, which attracted customers to cafes and restaurants with subsidised meals. 

Plea: The Government’s former high street tsar Mary Portas backs high streets

Supporters of the latest proposal for small shops want a very similar deal, with the State covering 50 per cent of the cost of goods bought at independent non-essential retailers, capped at £10. It would also run for a month in the summer, with discounts available from Monday to Wednesday, as with Eat Out to Help Out. But it would be limited to independent firms with fewer than ten staff, selling in physical stores. 

The Government would reimburse retailers with customers able to get one discount per transaction. Sources said the Treasury and MPs were ‘receptive’ to the proposal. 

It is estimated that the initiative could cost roughly the same as Eat Out to Help Out. Revenue & Customs figures show that 50,000 restaurants and food outlets claimed £849million in total last August. 

The request comes at a time when high streets are on their knees after months of closures and a decade of decline. Portas said: ‘Covid-19 has chipped away at the brilliant diversity of our high streets.’ 

She welcomed the Chancellor’s extension of the business rates holiday to the end of June, with a discount on bills until April 2022. But she said: ‘We need to act now to harness the support, need and love that people have for our high streets. These businesses, in the pandemic, have held our communities together. A scheme like this will bring a vital lease of life back to places that mean so much to us.’ 

Portas led a review of high streets for David Cameron’s government in 2011 to address rising vacancies and dwindling footfall, a situation made worse by a rise in online sales since the pandemic began. 

Tilbury, the founder of Charlotte Tilbury Beauty, said: ‘Independent retailers need our support to continue sharing their unique magic.’ 

Holland, founder of the House of Holland fashion brand, said: ‘Independent retailers bring our high streets to life with boundless creativity, unique points of view and a bottomless pit of ideas that you simply cannot get anywhere else.’ 

The idea is part of a wider campaign to support small firms – from shops to salons – dubbed Save The Street. It is orchestrated by pop-up shop specialist Appear Here. 

Boost: The idea is part of a wider campaign to support small firms ¿ from shops to salons ¿ dubbed Save The Street

Boost: The idea is part of a wider campaign to support small firms – from shops to salons – dubbed Save The Street

Appear Here boss Ross Bailey said: ‘What’s the point of opening up if there’s nothing to open up for? The Government seems to think of high streets as Woolworths, Arcadia – big mass retail they think is sadly dead anyway. We’ve seen a rise in brands launching online on places like Instagram and then still wanting to do something physical because they can’t get discovered without it. This is about making it possible for those businesses to survive that would have survived had Covid not been with us.’

He added: ‘The tech industry has had huge support but most people in the tech sector are of a similar background. Whereas, if you look at our streets, it’s every creed, every race, every type of person.’ 

Bailey said a long-mooted sales tax on online retailers could be used to subsidise high street shops. But last week Sunak delayed a decision on any levy until autumn. The Mail on Sunday can reveal that this decision came after Nick Beighton, head of Asos, and Roger Burnley, outgoing boss of Asda, lobbied against the tax through the Retail Sector Council. 

The council’s chairman, Richard Pennycook, who is also chairman of Howdens Joinery, said in a letter to Treasury Minister Jesse Norman in January that it would be ‘perverse’ for retailers to back a tax on online sales as it would ’tilt the playing field the other way’. He said corporation tax and VAT should be used to target firms equally. 

Campaigners say the Treasury could pay for the small shops scheme from the £1.8billion in business rates relief returned by large retailers able to stay open during the pandemic.