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Newer Concept | by Alan Stanton
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Newer Concept

28 February 2015. 'New Concept Unisex Hair Salon', 447 High Road, Tottenham N17 6QH. During the works to give this business a new shop front design.


This is one of a handful of Tottenham businesses which got a public subsidy for its redesigned shopfront. The cash came from the Mayor of London's Outer London Fund. (OLF).

 The 'New Concept' is two doors from the John McAslan + Partners N17 Design Studio at 451 High Road, Tottenham.

  A handful of other businesses in West Green Road N15 were also favoured by a grant of public money in this way.



To be clear, I'm not suggesting that public money must never be spent in attempts to revitalise local businesses. But I am raising issues about:



Who gets public money to "do up" a shop front? And what about the other businesses which don't? Great for 'New Concept'. But how is this fair for all the other hairdressers, nail bars, and hundreds more businesses in Tottenham?



Who chooses and with what criteria?


Who Benefits?

The simple answer may seem to be that the shop benefits. But sometimes it's not that simple. Giving public money to businesses can have unexpected consequences depending on who owns the business and its premises.

  For example in the past there have been cases where public money was - in effect - "rewarding" absentee landlords who failed to maintain their properties.

  Will landlords later raise rents on the improved premises?

  How far do such schemes persuade traders and/or building owners to spend more maintaining the the fabric of their buildings? Or to maintain the new shop fronts? Or is the grant seen just as a windfall? - An unexpected handout from the Council?

  Some traders in Tottenham High Road appear to be marginal businesses with very limited resources to invest. Or be reluctant to find the money because, by the terms of their leases, this duty falls on their landlord.

  There seems an assumption by Councils and other bodies that small local independent businesses are entirely within the local economy. I suggest this should be a question rather than taken for granted. Traders and shop staff may live in the locality. But that's not always the case.

  There may also be complex property tenure issues. A shop may have a chain of property ownership - in some cases linking to freehold owners living abroad who view their property only as an investment to produce income.


What Work is Done?

"Doing-up" shop fronts is a relatively easy way to demonstrate that something is happening. ('Something visible must be done' Here's something. Good, let's do it'.)

  How far is this a quick-fix cosmetic exercise? And a speedy way to spend small amounts of time-limited funds. The Outer London Fund was a three year initiative and cash had to be spent by the end of March 2015. Get the money "out of the door" - is often the case with time-limited external funding. Especially when judged on notional "outputs": targets met; projects "delivered"; cash spent.

  Which leaves open the larger question: what evidence is there to show whether or not this "fixes" anything in the medium to longer term?


What's the theory behind the scheme?

Is there, for example, an assumption that renewing a shop front will increase business? Or is the aim to model improvement in the hope that other businesses follow suit? Perhaps there's an idea about raising the image of local shops so new customers are attracted? And not just to those improved, but to all the nearby businesses?

  Crucially, if it has one or more of these aims is there collection and retention of reliable evidence that the aims have succeeded either wholly or or partially? Or perhaps there's evidence of unexpected but still valuable outcomes?


What about the High Streets Crisis?

While we're wondering about the theory used here, the wider context is also important. Because once again we see the apparently uncritical repetition of a traditional old scheme: a programme of small grants for shopfronts. As if nothing had been said; or researched; or written; or reported on: the High Streets Crisis.

  Has Haringey forgotten the Mary Portas Review? Or the The Grimsey Review? And probably dozens (or even hundreds) more such reports.

  Has anyone even thought about the impact on shops in High Road, Tottenham should the Council succeed in its plan for a "Joint Venture" with Hermes Real Estate and Argent to create yet another "Town Centre". (i.e. Anytown Retail mall.) on the Tottenham Hale Retail Park half a mile away? (Source: Haringey Council website.


Recording and Learning I'm suggesting that, at best such an initiative might be a useful experiment. Hopefully, it may provide evidence of outcomes such as a boost to businesses and to confidence both to customers and for traders deciding e.g. whether or not to invest. Or perhaps to move their business.

  It may also show what doesn't work. So traders, and the Council won't repeat the mistakes. This assumes there's a willingness to record, acknowledge and learn from both success and error. But without some degree of objective monitoring and recording of outcomes it's not an experiment but a matter of faith.

  What's completely unhelpful is the practice of Haringey's current "leadership" - repeating the wrong things; then spinning failure as success.




More Useful Links


§ Webpage for the Outer London Fund.

§ Haringey Council itself has in the past, carried out many High Road building restoration projects. I don't know whether or not this led to any organisational learning.

§ The website gives a readable introduction to some of the ideas and theories of Chris Agyris and Donald Schon including:

theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning.

§ Google Street View link to Windsor Parade.

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Taken on February 28, 2015