Questions remain over Croydon’s “flop” Portas Pilot scheme

Mary Portas "Queen of the High Street", visiting Croydon: not much has been seen of her since, nor any real impact of the Pilot

Mary Portas “Queen of the High Street”, visiting Croydon: not much has been seen of her since, nor any real impact of the Pilot

Portas Pilot? Remember that? Mary Queen of Shops and her government-funded budget for another series on the telly?

In all, nearly £3 million of public dosh was put up at the recommendation of Prime Minister David Cameron’s “retailing Tzarina”, including a cool hundred grand paid over to a Croydon group – hastily drawn together, apparently with little accountability or independent oversight – which was made up of various shop-keepers and businesses based around Surrey Street who said that they would “revive” the fortunes of the Old Town.

Whatever happened?

Well, apart from one of the businessmen on the original organising committee getting the right ‘ump with Inside Croydon when we rumbled (well, he told us) that it was proposed that the Portas Pilot should spend nearly one-third of the total grant on running a committee and renting office space … in that very same businessman’s own premises? That bright idea was hastily revised once we had publicised it.

Then there was the wizard wheeze of spending £16,000 from the fund on three cake baking competitions, conveniently staged right on the doorstep of the aforementioned businessman’s own premises, although it seems that, after that generosity with public money was flagged up, further “Let Them Bake Cake” extravaganzas were quietly dropped.

The chairman of the Croydon “Town Team”  – who runs a pay-day loan shop – resigned from the committee last autumn, admitting that the Portas Pilot in Croydon had been a flop.

But Croydon’s Portas Pilot may not be alone in its spectacular under-achievement.

Take Margate, which unlike Croydon was considered “interesting enough” by Mary Portas’s production crew to be included in the Channel 4 series, but where the utter superficiality of some of her suggestions caused division and rancour among the traders.

The ramifications of the scheme are still rumbling on there, with allegations that the chairman of the Margate town team has been awarded £1,000 from the fund to paint the front of his own shop (big shop frontage? Or expensive painters?). Meanwhile other members of the committee have been left to wait nearly two years to have hundreds of pounds of legitimate expenses incurred on behalf of the scheme (phone bills and the like) left unpaid.

“I’m shocked and disappointed,” one of those left out-of-pocket by their Portas experience said.

Might Croydon be in for some “shock” and “disappointment” over the way matters have turned out for its Portas Pilot?

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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3 Responses to Questions remain over Croydon’s “flop” Portas Pilot scheme

  1. Whatever ever the problems of the Margate Portas money, I must congratulate the Margate team on their Pop Up Shop – one of my favourite places to shop in the High Street. Oh, for more stores like this – there is hope for the High Street if they follow this example

  2. davidcallam says:

    Mary Portas was a PR project of the present government. It was never a serious attempt to revive the traditional high street, which even the government realises is dead as a dodo. It served a purpose: to quieten the chattering classes until the economy began to look better.
    Croydon’s retailing future lies with Hammerson and Westfield. Market traders who want a business in the town are advised to apply for a pitch in the new development: it will be more expensive than Surrey Street, but the footfall will be higher.

  3. Margate Town Team have done a great deal of good in my home town, they have helped with several new shops opening, have funded new shop frontage for 24 shops and have also coordinated free events, entertainment and one off markets in town.

    Portas was just a fad and she clearly has no interests in helping Britain’s high streets. The traders and town teams need to help themselves and not be drawn in to personal conflicts between themselves. Yet the sniping continues.

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