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Advice on preparing 'Portas Pilot' bids

Retail expert Clare Rayner answers questions on how to go about preparing bids to become a ‘Portas Pilot’ town.

How should towns that want to become a ‘Portas Pilot’ go about preparing their bids?

“There is a great deal of guidance on the process available via http://www.communities.gov.uk/news/newsroom/2082140 where Grant Shapps gives some strong indicators as to what’s expected.

“The crux will be the town’s ability to prove that the innovation is going to make a step-change. My suggestion would be that the towns need to back up their ideas with evidence that the changes will enable them to become more aligned to what their local community wants.

“I’d like towns to be considering how they leap-frog the competition presented by the out of town areas / shopping centres. Each centre will have their unique challenges and their unique customer base.

“In addition, the point has been stressed that this is a co-ordinated and team effort – the towns who can demonstrate that they have support from small and larger retailers, other service providers, landlords etc will be the ones who meet the “team-work” criteria.”

What, in your opinion, will make a good bid?

“One of the most key criteria is that the best bids will include innovation that is sufficiently adaptable that it can be applied and replicated to success in other towns.

“What Shapps is asking for here is the framework from which any town centre could work and yet the flexibility for it to be applicable to the vast diversity of the UK towns. That’s a tall order, and the winning towns, in my mind, will state clearly in their bid - not only how the “proposal” applies to their town is relevant and appropriate for their customer and going to add value - but if those towns can also then add to that, how the model can be applied.

How do towns make their applications stand out from that of nearby towns who may be equally in need?

“Reviewing the criteria isn’t only about need, it seems that to undertake an effective pilot the towns invited to bid for their share of the funds should be a diverse mix of those with high / low vacancy rates, in high/low income areas etc.

“For a town to stand out it will need to really go through the criteria with a “fine tooth comb” and ensure they are ticking all the boxes as it were – innovation, ability to implement, likely return on investment, engagement of the most important person – the disengaged shopper.”

Do you think there is scope for towns that have already gone some way to making some improvements to still apply or will they not be considered?

“The criteria for allocation of funds include an assessment as to how the initiatives will pay back, is it a “value-for-money” investment.

“Clearly if a town has already some evidence to prove their own “business case” for the funds they may well have more chance of securing funds. If the town has all the other necessary ingredients to receive funding then having completed some improvements, successfully, will further add weight to their argument that they should receive more to continue their positive momentum.

“Similarly, towns who have invested, but with little success, are highly unlikely to get funds as clearly they will struggle to demonstrate the “value for money” criteria has been met.”

In Summary

  • Think about what you plan. Innovation that is going to make a step change will be noticed
  • Show who is behind the bid and how much support it has across all key stakeholders
  • Demonstrate how it will apply to the local community, how it is relevant and likely to re-engage
  • Be clear about what a difference the proposal will make and in what time frame
  • Show realistic cost as much as possible and what the return on investment will be
  • Propose how the bid could be adapted, showing flexibility to be tailored to localities

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