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

6  The industry

Industry initiatives


112. During our inquiry, the industry highlighted to us one key current initiative that should help it to engage with local authorities and Government, namely the formation, in 2008, of the Retail Markets Alliance (RMA), an umbrella organisation created by the four major organisations involved in the markets sector—the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA), the National Market Traders' Federation (NMTF), the Association of Town Centre Management (ATCM) and the National Farmers' Retail and Markets Association (FARMA) "with the intention of representing the views of the markets industry on major issues".[188] Graham Wilson, Chief Executive of NABMA, emphasised to us the importance the industry attaches to the RMA initiative:

It is extremely important that we work in partnership, and I think we are seeing more of this today because one of the best things the market industry has done in the last year or two is the establishment of the Retail Markets Alliance, which has brought together the farmers who provide the main sort of impetus for farmers' markets, ATCM, NMTF and NABMA. We come together, we share a platform and we speak, largely, on behalf of the industry.[189]

He commented that "in terms of making sure that the market offer is varied, is balanced and we get the best that these different markets can bring, the Retail Markets Alliance is going to be an excellent vehicle for achieving that mix and balance in the future".[190] Similarly, Joe Harrison, Chief Executive, NMTF, commented that "through the Alliance we are joined up from our end these days so, therefore, the industry is helping itself trying to move itself forward".[191] Simon Quin, Chief Executive, ATCM, further stressed the importance of having one over-arching body to prevent mutually destructive industry in-fighting, observing that:

[…] what we have done as an industry is challenge ourselves to think again and break down some of the thoughts that there are farmers' markets over there, traditional markets over there, market traders on one side and market operators on the other, and everyone arguing. We have said the markets are too important for that and we need to come together. That is why we formed the Alliance and why we are working together.[192]


113. Gareth Jones, Managing Agent, FARMA, gave us a practical example of how the RMA was working to address a long-standing industry weakness. A number of witnesses and submissions stressed that the paucity of statistics about the industry was hindering efforts to support the sector. Gareth Jones told us that:

one of the things that the Retail Market Alliance is doing is forming a Market Knowledge Group and we are trying to gather as much information as possible that is available, so existing information from individual markets across the whole sector, all research, and seeking to identify where there are gaps. At the moment there is a PhD student working at Gloucester University who is seeking to identify all retail markets in England […][193]

The RMA is also working hard to increase the profile of markets, for instance working with the All Party Parliamentary Markets Group (APPMG) to raise their profile with MPs and co-sponsoring market of the year competitions to help raise their profile with the wider public.


114. We also heard how the RMA was co-sponsoring a 'Make Your Mark' campaign to encourage new market traders. 'Make Your Mark' campaigns aim to increase entrepreneurial behaviour amongst young people. "Make Your Mark" is run by Enterprise Insight, founded by the British Chambers of Commerce, CBI, the Federation of Small Businesses, and the Institute of Directors. It is also supported by the Government. During oral evidence, Graham Wilson told us that 'Make Your Mark in the Markets' was "a new scheme that started just before Christmas and which will come to a conclusion in the summer […] currently we are beginning the stage of judging the entries to the competition." Potential new, young market traders were encouraged to enter the competition with the promise that the finalists would be given up to 10 days at the market of their choice to make as much profit and impact as possible. The winner also receives six months free trading, £1,500 and free NMTF membership. The winner was Matthew Crawford, previously a Business Development Manager for a media firm who had been made redundant during the credit crunch, with his Caribbean Food Stall, 'Easy'Nuh!'. He trades in Kent at Gillingham Market.


115. Finally, we heard how the members of the Retail Markets Alliance were working to spread best practice across the industry. NABMA, for instance, offers consultancy services as part of its membership package. It advertises a training and development programme aimed at increasing the professional standards in the management and delivery of markets. It organises residential courses for market operators and, in January 2009, launched a NABMA toolkit—a CD that provides key information, legal and operational advice and documentation to assist current, and prospective market operators of NABMA. The toolkit includes a "health check"—a self assessment tool for markets, which was launched in 2008. In oral evidence to the inquiry, Graham Wilson explained that "the toolkit was brought together following discussions with our members with the intention of providing good practice […] the first of a series of toolkits that we intend to provide for our membership."[194] He told us that "the toolkit has been very well received, particularly among our members that do not have the in-house expertise to develop detailed policies and procedures".[195]

Industry challenges

116. There was a consensus among our witnesses that the formation of the RMA was an important step forward likely to improve partnership working with local authorities as well as other stakeholders. Darlington Borough Council, for instance, considered that "lack of (previous) cohesion from the leading industry bodies has disadvantaged markets—this is now addressed through the RMA […]."[196] The weight of evidence also suggested that, by concentrating on promotion, recruitment and training, the RMA was focusing on the key challenges. The general impression was that, whilst the RMA was off to a good start, there was still much work to be done, something which the RMA itself acknowledges.


117. A number of witnesses and submissions were particularly frustrated by the industry's inability to promote itself adequately. Nick Rhodes told us that:

I think there are certainly pockets of good promotions within the markets industry, locally, but I think it is fair to say that nationally the industry is not very well promoted, for all sorts of different reasons, mainly finance, but it could certainly raise the profile by organisations coming together and actually promoting the markets industry as a whole. It is something that is very sorely missed.[197]

In its submission, the Consultancy firm Quarterbridge commented that "the markets industry has been lamentably poor at promoting such 'good news' stories such as the 'How Green is your Market?' promotion recently launched by the National Market Traders' Federation."[198] In oral evidence, Quarterbridge consultant Jonathan Owen went into more detail, criticising first market traders because "a lot of them are remarkably poor at promoting their own businesses […] they regard the rather feeble efforts of local authorities to promote the markets as being sufficient to promote their own businesses […]."[199] He felt they "should be working harder to promote themselves first",[200] with the market manager working separately to promote the market as a whole. Because many market traders tend to move from market to market, Jonathan Owen considered that their interests were not automatically aligned to those of the market manager, and that whilst there was clearly scope for more coordinated promotions, equally market traders and market managers needed each to consider their individual promotional needs.


118. There was a similar feeling from local authorities and others that the RMA needed to do more with regard to recruitment of market traders and their training. Hackney Council in its evidence observed that "a barrier to entry for the next generation of market traders and to some extent market staff for councils is training. We'd suggest that bodies such as the NMTF take a more active role in promoting this career option and potentially looking to provide training",[201] Darlington Council observed that "one of the advantages of market trading is that it is very easy to access, but this also works in reverse—most traders fail to put together a proper business plan, there is (to them) no real access to retail training, support networks etc"[202] and City of Westminster Council observed that "a recent consultant study of street trading in the Oxford Street/Regent Street/Bond Street Area demonstrated a real lack of retail expertise amongst many street traders, and the need to provide research and training to inform business decisions."[203] One problem, is that traditionally stalls were handed on through families, but this tradition is now in decline and can, in any case, sometimes act as a barrier to necessary change. Consultant Chris New told us that "from my angle, what I see of markets that are scruffy, badly presented and where there is poor customer care, clearly there is a desperate need for training."[204] He felt that "there are some skills that many market traders need, but they have not got the opportunity because of the way they work—small businesses, disparate distances from each other, etc."[205] Acknowledging that some NABMA members were already running schemes whereby a new market trader works alongside an existing one, he saw merit in more mentoring schemes.

119. The RMA acknowledged the need for more recruitment of market traders and better training for them. In its written evidence, it stated that:

Crucially, there is also a lack of new young traders entering the sector. Markets are an untapped source of employment. Whilst the RMA is supporting an initiative with Make Your Mark to attract new entrepreneurs into markets, much more has to be done, and this remains one of the industry's key priorities.[206]

Graham Wilson further accepted during oral evidence that "the training that exists at the moment [for market traders] is largely fragmentary […] Certainly, as an industry, we need to bring those together on a national scale."[207]

120. We commend the key market industry organisations for the work they have done in recent years to establish a coordinated approach to tackling strategic market industry issues. We recommend that the industry look in particular at how they can provide further best practice guidance and support to lower tier councils operating smaller, local markets and who are more likely to lack specialist market knowledge. One key concern for the industry is how they generate the momentum, and the funding necessary to take these initiatives forward. One potential source of assistance is central government and, in the next section, we look more deeply at the role that the Government should be playing and, equally importantly, what markets can do for Government.

188   Ev 97 Back

189   Q 97 Back

190   As above. Back

191   Q 91 Back

192   As above. Back

193   Q 90 Back

194   Q 95 Back

195   Q 95 Back

196   Ev 56 Back

197   Q 162 Back

198   Ev 130 Back

199   Q 188 Back

200   Q 189 Back

201   Ev 175 Back

202   Ev 57 Back

203   Ev 125 Back

204   Q 123 Back

205   As above. Back

206   Ev 100 Back

207   Q 110 Back

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Prepared 23 July 2009