And housing minister Grant Shapps has thrown his weight behind a variety of schemes to help town centres. There are now 27 Portas Pilots testing ideas, 100 towns trying things out with a £100,000 High Street Innovation Fund and at the end of all of that the chance to win a £1 million ‘Future High Street X-Fund’. That’s on top of 107 town previously given £52,000 funding each – again, to test ideas and find innovative solutions to the empty shops problem. With just over 1000 towns and cities in Great Britain, that’s almost a quarter of them now testing, prototyping and innovating.
While all that goes on, some MPs are quietly getting on with the business of actually making a difference to town centres. In Rochdale, Simon Danczuk MP has found a simple but effective way to use government funds to support the high street. He’s relocated his constituency office to one of the town centre’s empty shops, opening 10-5 every day to deal with whatever constituents bring through the shop door. MPs offices are funded by the taxpayer, so Danczuk’s approach brings taxpayers money back into the local community as well as providing an easy way to meet the people in his town. And it brings one empty shop into new use.
Imagine if every MP did the same. Not only would 650 shops be filled at no extra expense, but communities across the country would be given an inspiring example of how high streets could be reinvented.