New high-streets minister Brandon Lewis has landed himself in a major row just weeks into the job after reportedly branding a report on the shops crisis by former Iceland boss Bill Grimsey “a load of crap”.
Lewis was quoted in an interview with the London Evening Standard, in which he heaped praise on high-street tsar Mary Portas.
Grimsey’s report, released in September, attacked the government-backed Portas Review for being too backward-looking and seeking to revive elements of the high street that it said were beyond repair. Lewis, who took over the role from Mark Prisk in the recent government reshuffle, was quoted as saying that Grimsey had made some “interesting points” but added: “Otherwise a lot of it was a load of crap.”
“He made a point about having a 20-year strategy, which is somewhat ironic bearing in mind he talks about how fast-moving the high street is,” the minister is reported to have said.
He went on to praise the “phenomenal job” high-street tsar Mary Portas had been doing.
Grimsey hit back telling the paper: “The evidence is totally against him.”
One source close to Grimsey described the minister’s alleged remarks as “totally inappropriate”. “Even if he does not agree with all the report, to go around using that sort of language is completely unacceptable in his role. Bill’s report was the result of months of good-intentioned hard work and has been well received by businesses and politicians.”
The Department for Communities and Local Government declined to comment but sources said Lewis had spoken to Grimsey about the Standard article and the two were due to meet soon to discuss their views on the high street.
Last week Grimsey gave evidence alongside Lewis at the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee’s final evidence hearing into its review of the UK retail sector.
Chair Adrian Bailey told him: “I suspect your review demonstrates a level of political courage that you will not find amongst any political party in this place, but we will see. I am sure that some of your sentiments will resurface again in our recommendations to the government.”