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Deputy Diary: Mary Portas gets all feisty on stage

Mary Portas versus Bill Grimsey: what a delicious spat that was.

Anyone who doubted Mary’s passion for our high streets was firmly put in their place today, notably the former chief executive of Focus DIY, who got an earful from the feisty redhead at the Retail Week conference after he accused her of shirking from her responsibilities. It really was quite thrilling, in relative retail terms, of course.

I’m on Mary’s side (and not because I’m scared of her). In fact, I had the urge to protect her, initially anyway (she quickly showed that she was very capable of looking after herself…). Bill said that Mary had created a “balloon” (her recommendations after her Government-appointed high street review) that she then left to fly away (Mary believes it’s now down to the Government to push them through). But what more exactly does Bill think she can do? Legislate? No. All Mary can do is lobby, campaign, try new ideas. That’s no different to what any of us can do. But, if we’re honest, we don’t, at least not to the extent that Mary does. And she does it amid incessant criticism. Most people would have given up by now.

So it was interesting when Bill accused her of publicity-seeking. I don’t imagine it can be much fun being publicly slated for trying to do a good thing. And if the exposure does help Mary’s bottom line (which I think is what Bill was hinting at), then who cares? Better to bring these issues to the national agenda than try to fix them alone, from your kitchen table.

And that’s partly what Mary was trying to get at during her Q&A session. She kept talking about high street “stakeholders”, which we all are, and how together we have a better chance at affecting change. She’s right. The responsibility for the future of UK high streets is our collective problem and there’s power in numbers, after all. But she certainly makes for a passionate leader, especially if the round of applauses from the audience during the verbal battle were anything to go by (poor Bill didn’t get any).

Readers' comments (3)

  • I don't have a problem with Mary Portas per se. I think what she's doing in Manchester is great.

    The problem I have is with the pedalstall she is being put on. She is not "the champion of the British high street", she is a media-savvy individual who has managed to garner a bit of publicity and is "sort of" using it to highlight the issues currently faced by the high street but mostly using it for her own gain. It's the equivalent of Katie Price championing women's rights.

    We all know that the Portas Review is a complete damp squib and the meagre funding Mary has drawn out of the government is nowhere near enough to do any serious long term good. In any case it's been over a year and barely any of the money has been put to good use.

    I'd love to live in the same idealistic world as Mary where the high street returns to it's former glory but sadly that is not the reality of the world we live in.

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  • If she is that passionate let her open her own chain of shops and then we can see how good she really is! Its easy to talk the talk but she has not walked the walk.
    At least she is trying!

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  • I think Portas is living in a dreamworld. She does not reflect reality in any shape or form. If she created her own chain of stores on the high street, she would quickly realise that the 'high street' is in a terminal decline and will not recover.

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