Government efforts to revitalise the high street by recruiting Mary Portas have been dismissed as “toy town” by a leading independent retailer.

Midcounties Co-operative chief executive Ben Reid said: “The high street is struggling. But bringing in an external consultant is not going to solve the issue.

“When the government calls in Mary Portas to save the high street, we are in Toy Town.”

Reid told the Abta Travel Matters conference in London yesterday: “[The high street] is not just about retail, it’s about social cohesion. High streets are what bound towns together.”

However, Reid reported Midcounties’ high-street travel agencies are booming.

“We have a strong high-street presence and our shops are performing well, with business 60% up,” he said.

Deloitte lead partner on travel, hospitality and leisure Graham Pickett told the audience the UK economic outlook had improved – although he said Europe “remains on the edge”.

Pickett said: “UK consumer confidence is improving and that is positive. Consumer confidence and travel go hand in hand.

“Jobs look pretty good and household spending is predicted to improve, although not yet back to the dizzy heights it was.”

However, Pickett added: “A lot of people are still paying down debt . . . [and] I don’t see the UK economy getting growth from consumers.”

Reid agreed, saying: “We’ve seen a significant increase in people paying cash and a decrease in people paying by credit card.”

Referring to how the internet has transformed retailing, Reid said: “Tesco created a whole generation of internet food shoppers.

“I don’t know that Tesco is making money online – there is no money in food delivery. It’s a response to customers, not a response to a profit opportunity.”

He said: “Midcounties won’t move to the Tesco model of home delivery. We’re moving to a click and collect model.

“We’ll look to serve customers without astronomical overheads.”