Mary Portas’ efforts to save the British high street descended into seaside farce this week as the leadership of one of her first ‘town teams’ quit en masse.
The shock departures came amid claims her TV crew was more interested in making controversial TV than turning round the fortunes of the Kent resort.
Robin Vaughan-Lyons, chairman of the Margate town team, said filming of a Channel 4 documentary series – covering its plans to use £100,000 of taxpayers’ cash to revive flagging trade – had turned into a bitter power struggle.
He accused TV crews of deliberately trying to stoke up disagreements between the team’s leadership and businesses in the town, claiming Portas herself had “completely blanked” the town’s bosses while she attended filming.
Vaughan-Lyons said the ructions – which spilled over as the film crew descended on Margate for a second spate of filming following the town’s successful bid to become a Portas pilot – came even before the town team could draw up a plan on spending the £100,000.
“I’m absolutely devastated but I was left with absolutely no option,” he told The Grocer.
“There are a group of people who are more interested in publicity and being on TV than they are in helping Margate and they have been deliberately encouraged by the film crew to make personal attacks on us.
“We have not objected to the filming of the show but for us it’s more about what we do to help the high street. But the filming has led to all sorts of disgraceful activity.”
As well as community shop owner Vaughan-Lyons, Louise Oldfield has quit as secretary and press officer of the team. Treasurer Ian Darker-Larkings, a bistro owner, and vice chair Roxanne Tesslar, a tea shop owner, have also quit.
“I have had no contact with Mary,” added Vaughan-Lyons. “But what’s happened has left me completely disillusioned with the whole initiative.”
Oldfield added: “My position has become untenable with individuals consistently acting outside the team. I have been subjected to public bullying by individuals who are seeking to further their own personal interests rather than the aims of the bid.”
Vaughan-Lyons said it was now unclear who would take over the running of the team.
“We have just been given a shop by a landlord to work from, the website is all in our names and we had just started to sit down and start going through the budget. We should have been jubilant but as it is we’ve been in tears,” he said.