The government has turned to Tesco in its bid to save the ailing British high street, The Grocer can reveal.
The retailer has agreed to join the new Future High Streets Forum, launched by ministers openly frustrated at the lack of progress made by the Mary Portas review.
Tesco said its huge presence on the high street meant it was in an ideal position to help the government try to stem the flow of store closures.
“Vibrant high streets are in everyone’s interests, including ours,” said a Tesco spokesman. “Over half of our stores are on high streets across the UK, helping to attract customers to other shops and services, so we are pleased to contribute.”
However, Association of Convenience Stores CEO James Lowman, also a member of the forum, said the appointment would spark anger among retailers who blamed Tesco for hastening the high street’s demise. “There will be retailers out there who will question Tesco’s right to be in this group given its history of developing out-of-town stores,” he said.
“I think the biggest challenge will be for Tesco to explain how its strategy can help us tackle serious issues around planning, rates and parking issues but I’m open to them being in the conversation.”
Tesco will join forces with the likes of Boots and John Lewis, alongside organisations such as the ACS, the BRC and the British Property Federation.
Earlier this month, former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy claimed high streets were “medieval” and that small shops closing was “a part of progress”.
In her 2011 report, Portas attacked the dominance of supermarkets and unsuccessfully called on the government to force all out-of-town developments to go before the secretary of state.
She has since fronted a string of campaigns to stop Tesco stores. But there has been growing anger at the lack of direction of Portas’ projects, with BRC director general Helen Dickinson in January calling for the work to be taken on by more serious bodies.
The Grocer has learnt that funding for a further 370 towns that were rejected in the pilot process ran out weeks ago, with one highly placed source saying town teams were relying on support from unpaid advisors working in their spare time to get ideas off the ground.
“The whole thing has ground to a bit of a halt,” said the source.
Meanwhile, Channel 4 said a TV show about Portas’ exploits, which had been scheduled to air this month, had been put back until April.