Digital tech can create thriving high streets, says Walden

The man who oversees Argos and Homebase is to lead a new government drive to help high streets wake up to the opportunities presented by digital technology.

John Walden, who became chief executive of Home Retail Group in March, has been appointed chairman of a new Digital High Streets Advisory Board, which will report to the DCLG’s Future High Streets Forum. The board, which also includes representatives from companies such as Sainsbury’s, M&S, John Lewis, O2, BT and Google, will look at how digital technology can help create “thriving high streets”.

The government said it would seek to expand initiatives such as the Open High Street idea in Hereford, launched last year, to help independent high-street retailers compete with supermarkets by giving them the chance to show off their ranges on one website.

The scheme, which also helps local traders band together to offer home delivery services, was highlighted at the opening meeting of the advisory board last week as an example of the way forward. Also cited was the new Digital High Street Skills programme, a partnership between the National Skills Academy for Retail and the Association of Town and City Management that provides basic digital skills to SMEs and aims to train 3,000 SME owners and staff by the end of 2014.

“There are a number of digital-related high-street initiatives, both in the public and private sector, but often little, if any, linkage between them,” said Walden. “This board will take information from successful pilots and examples of good practice and seek to apply it to a broader national strategy.”

High streets minister Brandon Lewis said: “Apps and other digital technologies can bring communities closer to the range of services good town centres offer.”