Mary Queen of Shops: I’ve taken a bashing for my country

The retail expert and TV star told MPs on the Communities and Local Government Committee that she did not regret writing her Portas Review of the high street but said Government work should “come with a health warning”.

“I have taken a huge bashing for the work I have done for nothing. I think it is quite simply unfair,” she said.

“I actually went out and just did something which I thought was important for my country,” she added. “I wish someone had held my hand on navigating politics because it has been a bit tough.”

In a highly spirited session, Ms Portas told the MPs: “I am not the saviour of the high street, I am the champion of it. But I cannot do it alone.”

Ms Portas, who was being quizzed on the impact of the report published in 2011, criticised the Government for allowing her to be blamed for a series of failed retail initiatives and the continued decline of the high street. “I don’t think anyone set out to make me carry the can… but it has happened that way,” she said.

MPs suggested Ms Portas’ review was a “waste of time” and a “failure”. Labour’s Simon Danczuk said the number of empty shops had risen since her review, reports The Telegraph. One MP suggested she had been “unduly influencing” Government policy in a bid to “make TV programme so you could get paid.” Ms Portas robustly denied the charge, adding that she did get paid for making TV programmes but that she chose to do a series on Britain’s town centres because “I believed it was the right thing.”

She also dismissed the criticism she has received from Bill Grimsey, the former boss of Wickes and Iceland who has said her report was “nostalgic”. She said: “I must have done something to Bill Grimsey in a former life.. it must be that I didn’t speak to him about my review.”

Ms Portas said she was proud of her report. “Most people do a report and walk away,” she said. “Two years down the line I am still fighting for it.”

She offered to do the review do address the “crisis” that was threatening town centres after “20 years of decline” and the ravages of the internet. Twenty-seven towns – the so-called Portas Pilots – have received Government money to help fund their plans for regeneration. Another 333 have become Town Partners and have been pledged funds for part of their plans.

The report, she said, had been a “catalyst for change” with half of the Government’s initiatives for regenerating High Streets based on her recommendations.

However, she insisted she did “not work for the Government” but had offered to do the review because she saw that high streets were facing a “crisis”. “I did it for my country,” she said. She added: “I believe in the high street and I believe that they are an important social infrastructure and part of the community in this country.”

But she hit back against MPs who suggested her recommendations had flopped. One MP asked her why shop vacancies had risen in the towns that had been selected as Portas Pilots and given funding for regeneration. “This is the tsunami we saw coming,” she said.“The high street has been in decline for the past 20 years.”

Another MP tried to suggest she had not spent enough time on her “flagship initiative”. She shot back: “I don’t work for Portas Pilots.. they are not my flagship, they are a Government initiative.”

Ms Portas criticised the Government for being “slow” in implementing the 28 recommendations in her review. When an MP scoffed that her initiatives had all been accepted, she shot back: “There’s a difference between being accepted and action. You’re an MP, you should know that.”

She argued that the Government needed to have co-ordinated response to the regenerate town centres. “It’s not going to be all about retail,” she said. “We need to create high streets that are destinations for communities. It will require thought and different types of shops as well as schools and health destinations.” She added that “all the departments should have been involved” in focusing on her review “and that hasn’t been the case.” She said David Cameron had written to her in support of her work but she admitted that the high street “is not his top priority.”

She said her recommendations would have had a better impact if the Government had provided “more guidance” for local and town councils on how to implement the plans and “where and how to spend the money.”