Bill Grimsey

Bill Grimsey: ’A lot has changed in the five years since my last report’

Former Iceland and Wickes boss Bill Grimsey is relaunching his probe into the future of the high street, amid fears of thousands of more stores shutting their doors.

Grimsey, whose independent review in September 2013 raised the profile of the high street’s plight, said the government needed to recognise it was being hit harder than any other country by the shift to online shopping.

He said local authorities lacked the cash to provide answers to the problems, which have seen a spate of closures of major operators, as well as thousands more smaller shops.

The retail veteran, whose new report is due out in the summer, has called again for ministers to look at massive changes to the mix of high streets. He has suggested a much greater role for leisure and entertainment, to replace “failing” bricks-and-mortar models.

It is not clear if the report will revive Grimsey’s controversial plan for a levy on big retail and leisure chains to fund high street rehabilitation.

The new probe comes shortly after the failure of Maplin and Toys R Us, plus problems for New Look among other high-profile companies.

Last month, combined research by The Centre for Retail Research and Altus Group warned 26 shops were closing every day on the high street.

Speaking to the BBC, Grimsey said: “A lot has changed in the five years since my last report. Austerity has started to hit real people in this country and there have been big technology changes.

“We are migrating to online shopping faster than other countries in the world and retailers are not keeping up.”

He described the changes on the high street as a “social phenomenon” and said ministers needed to look at how space in town centres could be given over to education and health, as well as leisure uses.

“Local authorities don’t have the budget or the wherewithal to do it,” he said. “They just don’t have the money.”