Posted: Wed 25th Jul 2018
Amid doom and gloom on Britain's high streets, the government has announced that a team of experts, led by Timpson chairman Sir John Timpson, has been appointed to diagnose the problems facing physical retail locations and come up with solutions to help them thrive.
As big chains continue to shut stores amid dwindling profits in the face of competition from the internet, ministers hope a man whose key cutting and shoe repair stores are still thriving 153 years after the company was founded has the answers.
But we've been here before.
In 2012, entrepreneur and TV presenter Mary Portas launched her government-backed 'Portas Pilots' to try and revive struggling towns. But figures released last year showed over 1,000 stores have actually closed in the areas she tried to help.
Portas claimed it was all a PR stunt by the government and no policies were in fact created. She called on chancellor Philip Hammond to scrap business rates.
Business rates is a massive issue and has been raised by many as one big reason for retailers' problems. Tatty Devine co-founder Rosie Wolfenden wrote on the Enterprise Nation blog last year that rates valuations saw her bill rocket by a massive 265%.
Many suggestions are being made including replacing business rates with a land tax.
In his latest comments on the issue, Philip Hammond acknowledged business rates are hitting companies hard but stopped short of making any immediate changes.
Former Wickes and Iceland chief executive released his own review earlier this month, following a previous report in 2013 which it is believed what prompted the then prime minister David Cameron to appoint Mary Portas.
As well as suggesting an overhaul of business rates, he said high streets need to focus less on retail and more on things like housing, leisure, entertainment, education, arts and commercial office space.
He also called for fines on landlords who leave properties empty for more than six months and setting up local town centre commissions tasked with drawing up 20-year plans.
The role of independents
Most of the headlines are about struggling big businesses, but what about small firms?
Costa Coffee has reported a decline in sales which one analyst said shows "its high street dominance is being seriously challenged by rising competition including small chains and independent craft coffee shop".
I live in Bristol which has a very proud heritage of independent businesses; in fact Gloucester Road in the city is believed to be the UK's longest row of independent shops.
While the street has suffered closures in recent years like every other city and town in Britain, many businesses there have been there for years and are well supported by locals and tourists alike who are drawn to an area with a strong independent spirit and a rebellious nature given with some of street artists Banksy's most famous works.
Another new area of Bristol has also popped up.
An old car park has been transformed into Wapping Wharf, an old car park to a thriving district of housing plus lots of indie businesses set up in old shipping containers.
It's a mixture of both retail and food outlets with some straddling the two. The Bristol Cider Shop for instance sells bottles of cider as you can imagine, but stays open late for people to drink and runs cider tasting sessions.
That's not to say it's all rosey as some businesses have come and gone. Trendy London burger company Spuntino closed after just a year but it has been suggested that being a London brand, it didn't properly understand the local market.
Perhaps that's the solution.
Rather than so many clone towns with the same massive chains we should be focusing on local retail environments that fit the wants and needs of the local population.
The big boys may be struggling but in many areas indies with just one or a couple of outlets are doing well.
Another member of the government's new review is Eric Reynolds who ran some of the most significant regeneration projects in London since the 1970s including Camden Lock Market and Spitalfields Market which are jam packed full of independent firms.
Mary Portas couldn't do it so let's hope Sir John and co can.
But we also hope they focus on the role independent businesses have to play.