Her first and quite possibly most critical recommendation, is to 'put in place a "Town Team": a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets'. I don't want to suggest by this that the other recommendations are irrelevant or unimportant, but it does seem to me that the biggest reason why small high street retailers fail to compete with large national chains is because of a lack of coordination in providing what customers want. Where a large corporation will coordinate between its various departments to ensure that the whole supply chain is efficient and effective in providing convenience for customers, a group of high street shops may actually hinder the effective provision of services to customers by having too many competitors in a small area, or having no "destination" services which will bring customers into the area.
Such coordination can only occur effectively when there is a team of collaborative stakeholders who are willing to invest in the future of their high street for the benefit of the community and for the profitability of local business.
In my survey of local economic concerns (which is still open for more input), there was considerable concern for the profitability of local business where they have to compete with large corporations (see figure above). The idea of the Portas "Town Team" is that high streets could claim more power by collaborating with each other, challenging large corporations through innovation and better coordination between stakeholders, so that together, they can provide better services to customers, and ones which are more rooted within community than out-of-town superstores could ever be.
The local government minister, Grant Shapps, and Mary Portas have even launched an invitation to local communities to bid to become a "Portas Pilot", one of the first twelve "Town Teams", which attracts an £100,000 grant and the support of Mary Portas' retail consultancy team. Unfortunately the deadline is getting close (30th March), and it might be difficult to get a bid in on time if none has been started already, but if you know anyone with the resources to do so, it would be a ground-breaking boost to a local economy and a great project (which I would love to be involved in!).
It is clear that really successful local economies require collaboration, not competition, but also that the benefits aren't just economic, but also come in the form of social benefits in having a more cohesive community, and environmental benefits, because of reduced oil-hungry transportation.
Images: vision of a regenerated high street from the Portas review; responses to my Norwich local economics survey.