The battle to save the British high street went transatlantic this week, as the body tasked by the government with finding solutions called on help from the US.
The Association of Town and City Management, appointed earlier this year to oversee work on about 400 Portas pilots and town teams, has asked US expert Professor Henry Cothran to step in.
Professor Cothran, of the University of Florida, will draw up a report on the issues facing the towns as he prepares to launch a British version of his BEAR (Business Expansion & Retention) programme.
The programme works by parachuting in advisers to develop highly focused economic intelligence about the local problems faced by retailers and other businesses. It then helps towns develop programmes aimed at helping existing businesses, rather than recruiting new ones.
“We’re really excited about the potential for this,” said ATCM chief executive Martin Blackwell. “The BEAR programme has been used in over 1,000 locations in North America.
“This is fully in tune with localism and we hope it could be of real benefit to nearly 400 town teams and Portas pilots. It’s all about communities doing it for themselves.”
Historically, communities had been too focused on business recruitment, added Cothran. “Many times, community leaders and the media are caught up in the excitement of luring new companies to their area, only to realise that they are replacing companies who have been ‘lured’ to someplace else.”