It's been a busy few days in Parliament with various goings on under the slogan of 'saving our town centres'. Unlike lobbying for an amendment to a clause in a Bill, or trying to get policy changed by arguing your case with Ministers and their civil servants, it was all about politicians showing leadership (something they are often criticised for being near enough incapable of) by keeping the profile of an issue as far up the political and news agenda as they can. Former Cabinet minister turned back bench agitator Jack Straw MP kicked off proceedings with a lively debate about the use of particular planning technique (namely the use of Lawful Development Certificates (LDCs) to establish whether implementing previously obtained minor permissions would create new planning units, and therefore a new planning chapter in the history of the unit covered... if you were interested) that would ultimately enable the sale of a wider range of goods than was originally proposed. His motive is to do what he can to support a vibrant Blackburn town centre, and raise the profile of an issue that is almost certainly national rather than local to this part of Lancashire.
On to Tuesday night and an event at the House of Commons (Jack in attendance, enthusiastically plotting the next move in his campaign to elevate the profile of the Lancashire Spring) where we were hosted by Marcus Jones MP and Ann Coffey MP in the Members Dining Room. Different parties, same commitment to a cause. Marcus is the extremely amiable and committed Chairman of a recently formed All Party Group of MPs and Peers who support town centres. He's also one of the 6 MPs asked by George Osborne to look at the issue of empty rates and report back, so worth engaging with. The Charter for Town and City Centres, which BCSC supported, was signed by nearly 30 MPs by the time we were evicted in favour of hungry Parliamentarians waiting for their supper. It was also great to see minor celebrity meet politics as one of the Apprentice stars, Adam Corbally, was there to lend his support for the role markets play in creating a positive town centre experience (I understand from my sources that he was also spotted later on in the Strangers Bar enjoying a couple of subsidised pints). With Grant Shapps, Minister for Enthusiasm, there to announce 3 more Portas Pilots will be added to phase 2, and that these will be announced before the summer recess, I'm ending the week believing that the power of political leaders is as much to keep issues at the forefront of individuals' minds as it is making or shaping policy, regulation and legislation.