4th July 2018, David Whiteley

On Wednesday 4th July I took the very early train to Birmingham for the official launch of The Grimsey Review 2.

Bacon rolls and coffee were on hand and much appreciated.

Bill Grimsey and his co-authors gathered to launch their update on The Grimsey Review from September 2013.

I experienced three very different narratives that day. Bill Grimsey was confident about the future of the high street, only without much retail. The room was confident about the future of the high street, with retail continuing to play a central role. The media was confident that rates are killing the high street.

The big shift from Grimsey 1 to Grimsey 2 is much less emphasis on rates and much more emphasis on local authorities empowered to drive change.

You wouldn’t believe it from the newspaper headlines with an almost clean sweep of a “rates are killing the high street” narrative.

Sitting in the room for the launch of the report, the clear message I heard from the panel was “each local authority empowered to make their own town centre a unique hub for their community”.

Bill Grimsey sees the town centre of the future comprising housing, education, arts, entertainment, business and office space, health, leisure … and some shops.

At one point, musing on a recent vacation, he suggested “a Disneyland at the centre of every town”.

From inside the room, the difference between Grimsey (who admitted he was looking to shock) and most of the rest of the room was a more positive outlook that shops – and especially independent shops – still have a central place on the high street.

Andy Street – formerly of John Lewis and now mayor of West Midlands – also on the panel, welcomed the report but felt that “retail is changing, not dying”. He saw the future of the high street in “differentiation rather than homogenisation” and that local authorities “don’t have to wait for permission from central government”.

For me, the exciting thing about Grimsey 2 is the community focus, seeking a diverse high street, unique to each community, represented by strong leadership, and supported by a local authority empowered to enable change. Grimsey 2 and SaveTheHighStreet.org are closely aligned on this

Some detailed recommendations have stayed the same between Grimsey 1 and Grimsey 2: town centre commissions, 20 year plans, town KPIs, dashboards, shared learning.

One more thing has also stayed the same: no mention of the Internet and digital technology as a driver of growth for local high street businesses.

This report continues a trend in high street inquiries to overlook the amazing future available to local high street businesses through embracing the Internet and digital technologies.

At SaveTheHighStreet.org we embrace a positive vision for the future of the high street. We see the high street transitioning to a better connected, digitally enabled, more sustainable high street.

To read more about our vision of the future high street and how we can achieve it together read our High Street Manifesto 2018.

David Whiteley

David Whiteley, COO at SaveTheHighStreet.org has worked across cleantech, finance, technology and consumer services. With corporate experience in strategy, strategic marketing, performance improvement, cross-functional business change and new venture development, he has helped clients deliver value‐add of up to £billions.