Market Failure?: Can the traditional market survive? - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents


4  Realising the potential of traditional retail markets in metropolitan centres

69. In the previous section, we examined the benefits that markets can provide to towns and communities. In the next two sections, we focus on the challenges facing local authorities seeking to realize these benefits. We look first at traditional retail markets in metropolitan centres, and then at traditional retail markets in medium and small towns. In this section we also look at lessons from elsewhere in Europe and the particular challenges facing London authorities and London markets.

What makes a successful metropolitan market?

70. We received evidence from a range of interested parties on what makes a successful metropolitan market. We have grouped this evidence into eight separate qualities, recognising that a number of them are complementary and that there is a degree of overlap between them. Whilst we accept that a number of these qualities are also relevant to a wider range of markets, this sub-section is written especially in relation to local authorities with responsibilities for large metropolitan markets.

INTEGRATION WITH THE TOWN CENTRE AND LOCAL COMMUNITIES

71. The first key quality highlighted to us was the need for the market to complement and act in sympathy with the wider town centre and local communities. Graham Wilson, Chief Executive of NABMA, gave us a number of examples of successful markets where "the market offer gelled within the general town centre scene." In Bury, Lancashire, for instance, he explained that "the market links trips to the market with other attractions in the neighbourhood. So a day out in Bury will be a day shared between the market and other things in the neighbourhood". He also noted that "the borough market in Halifax was another of our award winners where we were impressed by the way in which the traders, the management and the town centre generally came together to embrace the market as part of the overall town centre scene." [131] Linked to this, and stressed by, for instance, Professor Sophie Watson, is the need to consider how the design of the market can work to encourage people to linger in the town centre, for instance by including places to sit, eat and drink and making it easy to move through and around the market including push-chair and wheel-chair access.

72. The Retail Markets Association noted that one reason for the success of Bradford International Market was that it celebrated "the cultural and social diversity of the area."[132] Bradford City Council explained in more detail how it achieved this, including the "signature events" held over the August bank holiday week-end in 2004 and 2006:

In 2004 a four day celebration of European style street trading attracted over 650,000 visitors generating £10 million in economic activity for the city. In 2006 the International market attracted almost a metric mile [1.5km] of market stalls from across the continent and beyond to a traffic free City Centre.[133]

The Retail Markets Alliance also praised Longsight, Manchester Chand Raat Market for "celebrating the end of Ramadan and supporting the cultural and social mix of its location."[134] NABMA's submission made a similar claim for Darlington, "an excellent example of how markets are a vital part of the local community". NABMA noted how Darlington's markets "aim to provide something for everyone and with an increase in Eastern European residents in the Borough the markets now attract a different ethnic mix of customers […] the market is a perfect fit within Darlington's town centre and adds to the general vibrancy of the activities of the town centre."[135]

73. The National Retail Planning Forum (NRPF) also emphasised "the integration of the market into the surrounding area where it is located, whether it is the surrounding retail offer or the host community."[136] It also stressed that the market needs to be seen to be a permanent feature, part of the unique character of the town. Similarly, Westminster City Council observed that "markets need to be relevant to the community, who ideally should at least be stakeholders in them". Westminster further explained that, to achieve this, it had sought to "devolve the governance of the markets […] to the local community, which involved local residents, market traders, and community representatives. This has allowed relevant priorities to be set and focused local interest in the management and operation of the market".[137]

GOOD MANAGEMENT

74. The second quality we have identified from the evidence is good management. George Nicholson, Secretary of the NRPF and one of the founders of the modern Borough Market, told us that

[…] it sounds simplistic but to run a successful market you have to want to run a market […] A lot of people who own markets or preside over markets […] in a sense have inherited these things. Often the structure of the local authority has changed dramatically and the management of those markets has changed. In essence it always come back to, whether it is publicly owned or privately managed, you have to want to run a market, not just preside over something which happened to be there.[138]

NABMA, drawing on research it had commissioned from Professor Alan Hallsworth, one of our specialist advisers, and Cathy Parker, Director of the Retail Enterprise network, Manchester Metropolitan University,[139] highlighted the need for Market Champions alongside a pro-active management. We consider this quality in more detail in a later section, as one of the key challenges facing local authorities revolves around putting the correct management structure, with the requisite expertise, in place.

INVESTMENT

75. A third, related, quality for a successful market is investment. As we saw in an earlier section, substantial and long-term investment is key to ensuring that markets remain attractive to customers. Our evidence contained many examples of markets being successfully rejuvenated through the injection of new funding. Bradford Council, in particular, which "has adopted a 'ring-fenced' approach to profits generated through its markets allowing reinvestment of the profits back into the markets",[140] was held up as an example of how a long-term commitment to investment, enabling "a number of innovative and large scale market projects",[141] can create sustainable and successful markets. NABMA also proposed that "Stockport covered Market Hall is a wonderful example of how investment can act as a catalyst to the market. In 2003 the market hall was identified as being in need of refurbishment and by the end of last year [2008] a major scheme of refurbishment had been completed which had involved expenditure of almost £2M."[142]

PROMOTION

76. A further related quality is market promotion, which many contributors to our inquiry felt that markets and market managers neglected at their peril given the size of the marketing and PR budgets available to other parts of the retail sector. The NRPF emphasised in particular the need to "celebrate your achievements. Let people know how you are making progress and share that with the local community". It highlighted how markets were well placed to link into "food tourism", drawing for instance on the experience of Blackpool, which "has recently started to promote itself as a centre for traditional foods".[143] It also praised Bury's promotion of its award-winning 'World Famous Market' and Stockport Council for putting its market on the town's promotional material. Malcolm Veigas, accepting that "we [the markets industry] could do better with promotions, generally", told us that Bolton Council was "looking at aggregating up advertising revenue, so in the North West, for example, Wigan, Warrington, Bolton and Bury are coming together and using local advertising on television to try and increase footfall."[144] Perhaps the most imaginative promotion brought to our attention was that for Coventry market, where market traders and the council got together to produce a musical—with market traders and customers singing about the joys of their market.

UNIQUE SELLING POINT

77. Promotion will not work unless there is something to promote, which brings us to a fifth quality—a unique selling point. There needs to be a good reason for people to come to 'your' market rather than a shopping centre or a different market. Borough Market is a good example of a market with a clear identity centred on quality (if expensive) and exotic fresh food that even celebrity chefs, and their would-be imitators, want to purchase. Once a unique selling point has been established, it will attract further success. As George Nicholson observed to us "a lot of traders that come to the Borough Market come from places like Cumbria and they go past the doors of a lot of the other markets on the way to London."[145] Much of the evidence similarly stressed food, for example fresh food or ethnic food as in Bradford Market and Ridley Road Market, as an obvious 'USP'. Ensuring that the market is a special event, combining shopping with other social and cultural activities, is another obvious market 'USP'. Another angle, suggested for instance by Vale Royal Borough Council, was stressing personal service, placing the role of the market trader at centre stage. An example would be "someone selling jewellery but also offering a repair service."[146] Other examples would be mobile phone unlocking, key cutting and picture framing.

LOCATION

78. Several contributors to our inquiry also stressed location as a key quality of a successful market. As the consultancy firm Market Place (Europe) put it "in order for markets to flourish we believe that, amongst other things, they need to be located in prime locations within a town or city. Acknowledging that markets that operate maybe only two or three days a week could not justify "occupation of prime space with permanently erected stalls", they urged "flexible markets with modern demountable stalls—erected/dismantled on a daily basis […]".[147] During our visit to Leicester Market, councillors told us that they were giving consideration to moving from a fixed stall market to demountable stalls. They explained that whilst a fixed stall market made it easy for stall holders to set up, and kept the costs associated with opening and closing the market low, on the downside, on Sunday and evenings the market space is a "dead area" which can't be used for anything else—and runs the risk of being used as a toilet. Also, during quiet periods, rows of empty stalls can be off-putting to shoppers. The councillors felt there might be merit, therefore, in introducing some moveable stalls to increase site flexibility—though the council would incur more costs setting the stalls up for trading and removing them when the market shut.

79. Another related location issue is good transport links. Leicester City Council told us they had some concerns in this respect as pedestrianisation of the high street had resulted in bus stops being relocated further away from the market. The Council was funding a city hopper service and home delivery service to make it easier for the elderly to access the market. It was possible that eligibility for these services would be expanded in future.

80. One of the market traders who contributed to our web forum posted:

[…] all the good markets I have worked in my 38 years of trading have been at the heart of the market town. The moment the market gets pushed into a less prominent position, then it's the start of the end of that market. The better or more experienced traders move to a better market. Time after time I have seen the redevelopment of town centres where the positioning of the market appears to be done as an afterthought.

PARTNERSHIP WORKING & SIZE

81. The seventh quality we have identified is partnership working: market traders and market operators working together for the good of the market. Several submissions stressed the desirability of a strong trader organisation able to work with an engaged market authority. The eighth and last quality we have identified from the evidence is size. The suggestion is that bigger markets can survive a number of weaknesses because they can still offer diversity and choice. In their evidence, Darlington Borough Council observed that:

The difference between a small failing market (that has little diversity of product, is uninteresting, does not have 'critical mass' etc) and a large successful market (that has these good qualities) is size—because size, properly managed, overcomes these bad qualities.

As the issue of size raises concerns particularly for smaller markets in medium and small towns, we will return to it in more detail in the next section.

Lessons from elsewhere in Europe

82. During our inquiry we sought to identify examples of European best practice which could, relatively easily, be transplanted to England. We heard, in particular, from Jean-Paul Auguste, Chairman, Geraud Markets Group, a renowned private market operator of long standing which runs markets both on the continent and in the UK. He made a number of positive suggestions. First, he recommended that English markets "should be more orientated towards food because people have the need to eat and to buy each day of the week […] On the continent, mainly in Latin countries—Spain, Italy, and France—the food stalls are between 40 and 60 % of the stalls of the markets and this is the way to keep our clientele."[148] He also felt that England could learn from the long term commitment to markets—including financial commitment—which is more of a feature on the continent. He contrasted, in particular, the long-term nature of the contracts given by local authorities to private market operators on the continent, with the short term contracts in place in England. He explained the benefits of long term contracts as follows:

[…] I have in mind mainly Bordeaux Capucins Market, where there are two big market halls refurbished through a very long term duration contract. Through this contract, every partner, the city council and us, are obliged to eliminate any short term speculation decision. We are obliged to think at least 10 or 20 years ahead. When we took over this market, we were left with 40/45 food traders and the market was perhaps 40 per cent occupied. It took 13 years and this is the first year the market will be fully occupied and rented. It is a long term commitment […] It is a complete change compared to what could be said about private operators in this country. I would not attack private operators in this country because it is a sort of catch 22 situation. They were offered short term contracts. You cannot have an answer which makes these people aware of what is the long term interest for the city council, a long term vision for the market, if they are stuck on a very short life together with the city. [149]

He also urged "better interaction between wholesale and retail markets in this country", observing that, on the continent, all retailers—supermarkets and market traders—have access to the same wholesale markets whereas, in England, supermarkets tend to monopolise much of the wholesale market, giving market traders fewer opportunities to purchase a diverse range of fresh produce. George Nicholson supported this line of argument, as did Graham Wilson, and Michael Felton similarly acknowledged that "traders do not have the advantage of powerful block purchasing and rely upon the small/medium wholesalers whose numbers have decreased over recent years."[150]

83. Malcolm Veigas recognised that some continental market habits are unlikely to work in an English context. For example, he explained to us that "the legislation in Catalonia says that you can only have supermarkets within indoor market venues, and even then they can only be 7,500 square metres in size, and even then only sell certain types of goods."[151] He also though felt that English councils could learn from the continent how to use markets to "animate" public space, giving the example of Dappermarket, in Amsterdam:

[…] it suffered an awful lot from red light syndrome a few years ago, and it still reverts back to that at night-time, but during the days, when the market is on, it becomes something completely different, and it becomes something that the whole of the community really, really enjoys and values.[152]

In his written evidence on behalf of Bolton Council, he further suggested that England could learn from the relationship between trader and authority organisations on the continent. He cited the arrangements in place at Boqueria market in Barcelona, where traders have greater responsibility for, and hence a greater stake in, the upkeep and promotion of the market than do their counterparts in English markets, as worth exploring for possible wider application:

All traders as part of their licence are required to join the trader organisation. The traders in turn employ staff to promote the market and liaise with the city authority, who in turn employ specific staff to look after the interests of the market.

Finally, we were also interested to note in his written evidence that Bolton market services are "in early discussions with Barcelona's market authority to 'twin' with them at some time in the near future."[153]

84. We recommend that local authorities develop a strategic plan for the development of their markets that encompasses the eight separate qualities we have identified: integration with the town centre and local communities; good management; investment; promotion; a unique selling point; location; partnership working; and lessons from elsewhere in Europe. We further recommend, drawing particularly on the continental approach, that English local authorities consider the advantages of longer-term contracts with private operators if they choose to outsource their market operation, and recognise the importance of long-term commitment—including financial commitment—to their markets. We also see merit in local authorities exploring with NABMA and the NMTF the feasibility of creating broader roles for market trader organisations in terms of managing and promoting their markets, as a means of encouraging innovation in the future development of markets. Finally, we suspect that continental markets have much to offer in terms of managing public space and creating market events and suggest that local authorities consider the merits of market twinning, perhaps as part of a wider town twinning arrangement.

Challenges for local government

RESOURCES

85. We do not underestimate the size of the challenge facing local authorities seeking to sustain their markets in the current austere economic climate. From the evidence we have received, it seems to us that there are two big challenges: finance and management. In many metropolitan centres there appears to be a legacy of under-investment in local markets that has become a major obstacle to their future viability. Ann Coffey MP was not alone in suggesting that "local authorities have had higher priorities for investment, and often they have approached market management in a regulatory way. They have not seen it as investment for the future."[154] In a number of submissions, local authorities were seen as having treated markets as 'cash cows'. The consultant Jonathan Owen thought it

[…] fundamental to any business, if you want to maintain your competitive edge, that you have got to reinvest constantly in your business. Unfortunately, in my experience most local authorities have treated their market services as a cash cow over the last 30 or 40-odd years. They have not got a structured reinvestment policy into their service, they have not got the capital investment in there and as a result the competition, which plays by a different set of rules, which have been investing heavily, which have been borrowing and investing and improving the product and their attractiveness to their customers, have overtaken them.[155]

The practical impact of this lack of investment is captured in one of the market trader contributions to our web forum:

Our local council invest very little time and effort into modernizing or enhancing the market. Structurally we have a leaking roof. We have a cold building in winter to the point where the public won't enter unless they have to. We have a faded and out dated paint scheme and lots of other superficial decomposition.

86. We commend those councils such as Bradford, Bolton and Leicester who have already taken steps to increase and sustain investment in their markets. The challenge now is for more councils with markets in their locality to find the additional investment required to modernise and then sustain their markets in the context of a prolonged period of retrenchment. Ring-fencing market profit for reinvestment in the market, as Bradford have done in recent years, is clearly one option that more councils ought to consider. In addition, by considering markets as part of the wider town centre management agenda and in terms of their ability to deliver a number of strategic benefits, councils may find it easier both to release their own resources for markets, and to obtain financial support from other local and regional partners—for example regional development agencies (regeneration agenda), primary care trusts (the health agenda) and third sector partners (the social cohesion agenda). We recommend that local authorities think laterally and innovatively along these lines.

87. We were puzzled during our inquiry as to why councils had not used their prudential borrowing powers to secure investments in profitable markets. Leicester city councillors explained that, in the past, market profits could not be guaranteed, so borrowing to invest in the market was considered too speculative a venture. Other regeneration projects had promised a better early return. They felt though that, now the market had been turned around, there might be greater opportunity in future to use prudential borrowing in this way. We recommend that local authorities with profitable but 'tired' markets consider prudential borrowing as a means of revitalising their markets.

88. A third area that local authorities should, in our view, explore further is joint financial sharing with local market trader organisations, with the proviso that the latter in return gain a more strategic role in the managing of their markets. When we put this proposal to the Joe Harrison, Chief Executive of the National Market Traders' Federation, he was sympathetic, saying "exactly, yes. It is not an 'us and them' scenario".[156] We shall also consider in a later section whether there is a case for central government to provide financial support.

MANAGEMENT

89. We also received much evidence that was critical of local authority market management. Common themes were that, too often, council market management was overly bureaucratic and lacked expertise. The suggestion was that, where officials had markets as part of a wider, diverse portfolio, they were often unable to devote the necessary commitment to them and that, as a result, markets would sometimes escape the notice of councillors until they reached a critical point. Because there were so many different interests at stake with regard to markets, they tended to, as Professor Sophie Watson put it to us "fall between many stools."[157] Experienced council market manager Nick Rhodes, whose role in turning around Leicester market was much praised by other witnesses, observed that:

A lot of markets are, shall we say, treated poorly by local authorities, they do not recruit the right people (possibly , they do not even know how to recruit the right people—market management is a skill, and people have lost sight of the fact that it is a skill), and it has to be nurtured along, and it just does not happen overnight. You have to react to the outside world as well, and if you are not skilful enough and you have not got that experience then there are going to be problems ahead.[158]

90. What can councils do to improve their market management? One key issue is training for market managers, and we look at how NABMA are addressing this need in a later section. Another suggestion, strongly propounded by NABMA amongst others, was that councils with markets should appoint a 'market champion' at councillor or senior official level to act as an advocate for local markets, bring together the various interests at stake—"the economic side, the transport side, the design side, the social side"[159]—and articulate a strategic vision for the local markets that aligns with and enhances the council's wider town centre management plans. Precisely where the market champion sits—we found in our evidence that councils place market management under a wide variety of different areas—appears to us less important than the degree of access and influence the market champion wields. We commend those councils who have already identified market champions and urge other councils with markets to adopt a similar model.

91. During the course of our inquiry we were informed that the Local Government Association has also appointed a market champion—currently the leader of Stockport Council—to help and support councils more generally. Surprisingly perhaps this initiative was not mentioned in the LGA's submission, and other evidence questioned the impact he has had thus far. The NRPF for instance noted that "currently, there is a "markets champion" (Stockport) designated within the LGA" but also observed that "how this is translated into action either in terms of policy development in the LGA or in action on the ground is not at all clear."[160] We commend the LGA for establishing a market champion and recommend that it work with local councils and NABMA to develop the post so it has a clear and prominent role that adds real value to local council efforts to improve market management.

92. We acknowledge that a number of councils have substantial in-house expertise in market management. We were interested to learn during our visit to Leicester market, for example, that a number of councillors had themselves formerly been market traders. However, it is equally clear from the evidence that other councils have experienced difficulty building up an in-house team. Some submissions pointed to a diminution of in-house expertise over time as discrete market teams were amalgamated into larger departments. George Nicholson observed that:

When I first became involved with markets 30-odd years ago, each local authority had its own markets committee. It had a director of markets and a mini-bureaucracy around running a market. Now, there are only maybe one or two local authorities in the country—the City of London and maybe one or two others—with that dedicated political and bureaucratic structure based around the market.[161]

93. One solution proposed, was for more councils either to go into partnership with the private sector, or simply to outsource day-to-day market operations altogether. Some evidence was rather equivocal on the benefits of private sector involvement. Darlington Council for instance felt that "local authorities are however more likely to engage with the whole community"[162], whilst St Albans feared that "private operators are primarily concerned with profits and have been known to turn a blind eye to illegal trades and bad practice"[163] and others were concerned that private operators were less likely to take a long term view—going after short term profits at the expense of sustainability.

94. The majority of the evidence, however, rightly in our view, felt that the private sector had more to offer in the markets sector. The advantages of using private market operators identified in the evidence included the introduction of new investment, a flatter, more decisive management structure, a more innovative and business-orientated approach, and promotional savvy. NABMA, for instance, explained in its evidence that it had "a number of private market operators within its membership and these private operators have contributed significantly to the markets industry over many years."[164] Citing Liverpool as an example of a successful partnership agreement, and Glasgow as a successful arms length arrangement, it concluded that:

There is a need for all local authorities to consider how markets can be most effectively provided in their areas. Many will choose to continue operating themselves but others may find it helpful to contemplate new arrangements. Whatever provision is contemplated the future must be considered against criteria which embrace the wider agenda for markets.[165]

Simon Quin, Chief Executive, Association of Town Centre Management, also saw the benefit of private sector involvement, particularly from the perspective of situating markets within wider town centre management and development plans:

We are strong believers that the reason why town centres have started to see a way forward, albeit with the recession it is going to set some of that back, is the bringing together of the public and private sectors to work in partnership because there is real added value that comes out of having perspectives from different stakeholders. The market is a key part of that town centre, therefore looking at how it is managed, how it is run and what is done with it from a private sector perspective is very important as well.[166]

We were particularly impressed by the evidence from Jean Paul-Auguste and his Geraud Group, not least because the terms of their involvement—their emphasis on partnership and long-term goals, combined with their specialist knowledge of market operations—appears to be a recipe that maximises the positives and minimises the negatives of private sector involvement. We were particularly struck by their involvement with Liverpool City Council in a joint-venture partnership—also mentioned by others as a success story—which they submitted has "overseen a dramatic reversal in the financial performance of the city's markets portfolio", with a deficit eliminated and "an aggregate profit of over £1,000,000 realised."[167] We recommend that councils review their market management structure and give careful consideration to the most appropriate organisation for them that recognises the need to realise the wider economic and non-economic benefits of markets and gives due weight to the public and private sector alternatives on offer.

Challenges in London

95. During the course of our inquiry we were appraised of one issue that was peculiar to London, namely the extent to which the London Local Authorities Act 1990 (and a similar Act peculiar to Westminster) acted to constrain the ability of some local London authorities to improve their street markets. The submission of consultancy firm Market Place (Europe) Ltd was one of a number to highlight "the difference between the vast majority of markets operated throughout the country and those operated in London."[168] It explained that:

Elsewhere in the country markets are created by several methods, primarily being by Royal Charter, Prescriptive Rights or by Statute—the latest being the 1984 Food Act. The operator is permitted to apply realistic commercial charges to the traders and such profit generated can be re-invested in the market or used to provide other benefits for the local community.

By contrast, in London:

The street 'markets' are not strictly markets in the legal sense of the word. They consist of a number of individual Licensed Street traders—licensed under the London Corporation Act—who all congregate together at the same time and place to give the outward appearance of a market to all intents and purposes. The crucial difference here is that the L.A. can only recoup certain basic operational costs and cannot derive a profit from the operation of the 'market'.

The impact of this is that:

London local authorities often regard their 'market' as a necessary nuisance which they would rather not have to deal with and accordingly allocate the minimum resources—often of indifferent quality—to manage and develop the 'market'.

Whilst the London councils we visited or took evidence from disputed any suggestion that they neglected their street markets, they certainly agreed that the London Local Authority Act (or equivalent) provided an obstacle to effective management of their markets.

96. Chris Wroe, Environmental Health Manager for Licensing Policy and Strategy, City of Westminster Council, told us he wanted "to designate an area as a market and then give us rights more akin to a market operator to be able to shuffle people about, to be able to put commodities together."[169] Tot Brill, Executive Director for Transport, Environment and Leisure Services, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, felt constrained by the number of ways there were of challenging London council decisions, observing that "it is not just the market traders, anybody can object to anything that the local authority proposes to do",[170] which was stifling change and innovation. Whilst acknowledging that market traders were concerned that change would threaten their livelihood because they only had a right to a particular spot, she argued, in line with Westminster, that "what you end up with [at the moment] is isolated stalls in an empty market street where you would want, if you were managing the market properly, to cluster people together so they do not get lost and customers do not give up before they get to them […]."[171]

97. Tot Brill further emphasised that London councils would not be able to raise the money to invest in their markets unless they were given greater flexibility to raise rents and vary charges depending upon the position of the stall. Chris Wroe further added to this point that, because their rent is kept artificially low by the Act, market traders with tenancy rights that can be passed down generation to generation "do not have to operate efficiently […] their customer care is poor, their display is poor and the training of their staff is poor."[172] Stephen Douglass, Area Management and Engagement Manager, London Borough of Southwark, also argued that the present legislation was "quite a negative piece of legislation", because it pushes local authorities "down a regulatory enforcement route" rather than allowing the flexibility to promote and develop markets, for instance by "allowing us to generate a surplus to then reinvest."[173] Islington Council, whose Chapel Street Market we visited, similarly argued that, in parts, the legislation was no longer fit for purpose, as it "was written at a time when street trading flourished […] This is no longer the case". Islington Council stressed that "markets still play a vital role in our communities" but that, crucially, they "need increased council intervention to succeed."[174]

98. Tot Brill offered a specific example where the legislation was being obstructive. Her council runs a farmers' market in a street in partnership with a private sector organisation. In her words, "putting it together in a street was a nightmare because we ran the risk of it being designated as a street market which we are trying to avoid because if it was a street market then it could not be run by London Farmers' Market Limited who guarantee that what you have got is a farmers' market and not a collection of chancers."[175] Because the legislation does not allow local authorities to transfer their street market responsibilities, she was forced to establish the farmers' market on a temporary licence. In their submission and during our visit, Hackney Council similarly wanted greater flexibility to "transfer management of Markets to another organisation where the local authority do not necessarily have the commercial expertise in-house to maximise the potential of markets."[176] Short of abandoning the Act altogether, Islington Council similarly proposed allowing applications for stalls to be made by partnerships or companies, as well as reducing the notice of intention to revoke a licence because of unpaid rent and allowing the local authority to "promote and invest in markets and recover these costs from weekly rents."[177]

99. Other evidence to us, however, suggested that the issue might not be quite as black and white as implied above. Comments on our web forum were critical of London authorities for seeking to maximise revenue from their markets at the expense of market traders, by driving up rents. Some saw little evidence that the councils were committed to improving their markets, and were suspicious of their attempts (see below) to change the law without, as they saw it, any consultation with traders. One market trader, for example, who operates in Southwark, was critical of the council, which had "not invested in the ambience of the market" and asserted that a recently published consultancy prepared review stated that "Southwark markets are unloved" that "communication with stakeholders in poor" and that numbers of market traders had declined from nearly 700 in 1998 to under 300 in 2008. The view from our web forum was that better consultation, rather than new rules that enabled imposed solutions, was the way forward.

100. It appears clear that the present situation in London is unsatisfactory. Westminster City Council is currently seeking to improve the situation through means of a private Bill, introduced into the House of Lords, to replace the current City of Westminster Act. Chris Wroe explained that it did not address the financial issues, but would allow "for freedoms and discretions to enable us to manage our markets and our street trading better."[178] Having sought confirmation from Iain Wright MP, then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, that the issue had not come across his desk—he told us "it has not been flagged up as a major concern from London councils in the Department"[179]—we queried why London authorities had not sought to make a combined case to the Government to change the law. The answer appears to lie partly in the different circumstances that pertain across London both in terms of numbers of markets and legislation (for example, we were told that Greenwich has a Royal Charter and so does not have a legislative issue), and partly in scepticism that the Government would be particularly sympathetic or willing to take an active role. In recalling a meeting he had attended with a Minister when the London Local Authorities Act 1990 was being drafted, Michael Felton certainly implied a lack of sympathetic government engagement in the past:

We made a number of suggestions and she explained to us very nicely the difficulties of getting it absolutely right. We pointed out to her that some of these provisions simply would not be fair nor work effectively and it turned out that we happened to be right.[180]

Some witnesses also complained that there was no clear lead responsibility for markets in London—and this is an issue that we return to in a later section.

101. We are persuaded that there is a strong case for London authorities to be given greater powers in respect of their street markets. Whilst some councils would themselves admit that they have neglected their markets in the past, from the evidence we have seen there now appears to be a genuine desire to devote more time and resources to improving them. During our visit to Hackney too we were struck by the contrast between a historic tendency by the council to let its markets run themselves, and the extent of its commitment now. We recommend that London local authorities and CLG, whose support will be necessary to ensure that legislative change comes into effect, work together to change the relevant provisions of the London Local Authorities Act 1990 and other relevant legislation specific to individual London boroughs. In doing so, however, they should be mindful of the need to include a requirement to work in partnership with market trader organisations on the development of London street markets. Where local authorities gain additional powers in relation to market rents, stall location and management structures, it should be incumbent upon them clearly to articulate their strategic vision for the future of their street markets, and the benefits that will ensue for both traders and the wider community, before they put these powers into practice.


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139   Alan Hallsworth and Cathy Parket, The present status and future prospects for retail markets (Retail Enterprise Network 2005). Back

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149   Q 272 Back

150   Ev 64 Back

151   Q 157 Back

152   Q 158 Back

153   Ev 119 Back

154   Q 17 Back

155   Q 167 Back

156   Q 86 Back

157   Q 34 Back

158   Q 151 Back

159   Q 34 [Professor Sophie Watson] Back

160   Ev 141 Back

161   Q 279 Back

162   Ev 58 Back

163   Ev 70 Back

164   Ev 116 Back

165   As above. Back

166   Q 80 Back

167   Ev 142 Back

168   Ev 161 Back

169   Q 244 Back

170   Q 245 Back

171   As above. Back

172   Q 257 Back

173   Q 247 Back

174   Ev 174 Back

175   Q 250 Back

176   Ev 175 Back

177   Ev 174 Back

178   Q 241 Back

179   Q 307 Back

180   Q 194 Back


 
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Prepared 23 July 2009