Stockton - a nearby town to where I live - is one of the Portas Pilot Towns and as I understand it, it wasn't worth her while coming and using this as one of the examples for the series because it's currently like a building site. It's a shame because I would have liked to see her wave her magic wand over somewhere closer to home so we would be able to personally appreciate the benefits of all this sooner than expected.
If I were to have a conversation with anyone about what I thought we could do try and boost our declining localities, I think the first step would have to be in the direction of landlords. Since everywhere you go and look, you seem to see empty shop units and offices, it makes a lot of sense to me for rent to be reduced to give small business a sporting chance. Things are hard enough in this climate without rocketing/high rent costs. The responsibility also falls with the government and local councils to reduce business rates. Both these things don't have to be a permanent reduction but maybe on a common sense basis depending on the economic circumstances at the time. After all, are units not better being used and bringing in some money than derelict and earning nothing? Encouraging small to medium enterprises into unused buildings will kick start the funds for the council and the landlords and will also help surrounding businesses by increasing footfall. When I've read some information about the Portas Pilots, in fairness, these seem to already be recommendations or guidelines which is a good sign.
There are plenty of unemployed people in this country, and I imagine there's a healthy proportion where they do want to work. Our local uni, Teesside University, offers a scheme for small businesses to have a graduate work for them for 'free' where they are actually paid by the university, therefore they get paid experience and you get a worker for a temporary period. If more voluntary posts/subsidised posts were advertised, I'm sure it would help people get confident and get back into work and would also take pressure off small business, who can ill afford staff, in potentially busy periods (e.g. Christmas).
If people used a bit more common sense, perhaps things would gradually get better. We just all need to look out for one another and become a community again. Traditional values and attitudes need to make a comeback and then we might catch a glimpse of the glory days we all seem to look back on so fondly.