Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320
MONDAY 20 APRIL 2009
Q320 Anne Main: Does it mention markets?
What does it say about markets?
Mr Wright: It needs to be considered
in terms of a good, diverse retail offer that also incorporates
civic, recreational, community and cultural amenities.
Q321 Anne Main: Did it actually mention
the word "market" in there?
Mr Wright: I think it did. I would
need to confirm and check back on that.
Q322 Anne Main: Because if it did
not mention "market" at least once in there people might
assume that toolkit did not really include markets.
Mr Wright: But I would come back
to that important paragraph 2.27 of PPS6, which is, as I said,
very strong about town centres and local authorities needing to
consider as part of that wider strategy retaining and enhancing
existing markets. These are potentially a great offer, and in
the face of huge economic pressures, in the face of intense competition
from the internet and other things, markets can provide a distinctive
offer. They can help people of all different ages and all different
income groups. Local authorities I think are best placed to recognise
that and to determine what is needed in their particular area.
Q323 Anne Main: So you will be retaining
Mr Wright: What we are trying
to do is streamline planning policy statements so that we give
them the new planning policy statement, Planning for Prosperous
Economies, which we will be publishing shortly.
Q324 Anne Main: It will have the
word "market" prominently in it?
Mr Wright: I am afraid you will
have to wait on that.
Q325 Chair: Just before we move on
to the issue which Mr Hands is going to ask about, can I just
clarify something on this issue relating to London local authorities?
We have read the evidence that we had, I think, last time. The
clear message that we have had, from certain London authorities
anyway, is that they want to change the legislation as it operates
in respect of London councils. In order to do that they have to
change the London Local Authorities Act through Parliament. Are
you saying that those authorities which are actively seeking to
change the London Local Authorities Act have not spoken to DCLG
on this matter?
Mr Wright: They have certainly
not spoken to me or my officials with regard to this. My understanding
is that the 1990 Act has been subsequently amended almost on an
annual basis throughout the 1990s. I will promise to go away and
have a look at this but, as I said, no-one has ever tried to lobby
me on trying to change this particular piece of legislation.
Q326 Chair: The question that I am
asking, and the point that David made that there is not a minister
of markets so they would not necessarily know which minister to
go for, is about the process. Are the London local authorities
liaising at all with DCLG when they keep seeking on an annual
basis to modify the London Local Authorities Act, or are they
doing it entirely off their own back while liaising with some
other government department?
Mr Wright: As I said, Chair, they
have not come and contacted me for me to do something with my
ministerial hat on with regard to planning. Let me go away and
inform the Committee in terms of whether they spoke to any other
ministerial colleagues. It could be, for example, that they have
gone to John Healey as Minister for Local Government.
Q327 Chair: It is not simply ministerial
colleagues. It is who the London local authorities, when they
seek to amend on this annual basis the London Local Authorities
Act, are communicating with at a parliamentary or civil servant
or ministerial level, because I think it would help to illuminate
the confusion that there is out there about who is supposed to
be responsible for these matters. If you could let us have a note
on that it would be helpful.
Mr Wright: It certainly has not
been me, Chair, but I will let you know.
Q328 Mr Hands: How often do you meet
with representatives of the markets industry?
Mr Wright: Very rarely, I have
to be honest.
Q329 Mr Hands: Have you ever met
Mr Wright: I think I have but
it might have only been on one or two occasions, so yes, I hold
my hands up and say I have very rarely met with them.
Q330 Mr Hands: You think you have
but you are not even sure if you have?
Mr Wright: No. I have been Minister
for about two and a half years. I think it might have only been
Q331 Mr Hands: Would you therefore
be in a position to be able to answer the next questionI
am not sure if you wouldas to whether you think the industry
should be doing more to help itself and what the industry could
be doing to help promote markets and to help the better functioning
Mr Wright: I think I am in a position
to answer this. One of the great initiatives that I have noticed
when I have been researching this particular Select Committee's
inquiry is the web-based forum. I think it has been a hugely successful
event with a lot of traders having feedback and putting their
views in. They say people should speak to traders more and there
is a case for that. What I also think is that traders should speak
to local authorities which help manage markets and town centres,
and more interaction should be made with consumers. There is a
traditional thought that says that the traditional retail market
is declining. I think there is conflicting evidence with regard
to that, but in terms of what is on offer, what sort of service
is provided and, crucially, how you pay for that service, my understanding
is that most markets deal with cash and it is a case of would
credit and debit cards help facilitate greater trade? That interaction
is important. In terms of your specific comment, I think good
management between the local authority and traders can help do
Q332 Mr Hands: So you are saying
that better interaction is the answer but you yourself are not
sure if you have ever interacted with the industry?
Mr Wright: And I hold my hands
Q333 Mr Hands: Going back to where
we started from, which is where markets find their natural home
in government, Mr Nicholson and the other contributor earlier
were quite clearly of the opinion that it should be under BERR.
I think Mr Nicholson made the point, which I think sounded very
valid, that the most important thing about a market is that people
have to want to run a market and have to recognise that it is
something that has to be economically viable, so the social benefits
or community benefits have to definitely be viewed secondarily.
A market cannot survive unless it is viable, so can I come back
to the point whether, given the fact you are not sure if you have
ever had a meeting with the market industry representatives, you
still think DCLG is the natural home or whether it should be moved
Mr Wright: Yes, I think that Communities
and Local Government should be the central point for markets,
one, because of its planning functions in respect of providing
a good planning policy framework, and more important than that
perhaps is the interaction with local government. Given the responsibilities
for local government that CLG has, I think that would be the natural
place for it.
Q334 Mr Hands: Can I urge you, if
you think that DCLG should be the central point for markets, to
indeed have a meeting with the market industry as soon as possible?
If you think that is the case, then logically you should want
to have that meeting.
Mr Wright: I think that is a fair
point. What I would say is that over the past 20 or 30 yearsand,
Anne, this is going back to your point that perhaps a lot of local
authorities have shunted markets into a back cornerI think
markets have been quite unfashionable. One of my other interests
is allotments and I think markets are now going to come back into
their own in a very similar way to allotments. I think there is
an awful lot of interest in this, I think there is an awful lot
of opportunity with regard to the current recession, and I think
we are going to see a renaissance in markets. I am quite optimistic
here and that is why I think this inquiry is quite well timed.
Q335 Mr Hands: You are basing your
optimism still not having met the market industry?
Mr Wright: No. I am basing this
upon what I think we need to do in terms of economic development,
in terms of regeneration, which is to have town centres at the
very core of that. I think good, active town centre management,
incorporating a whole range of things, as I said, whether it is
retail, whether it is cultural, whether it is providing information
about government services, can be done in markets and in that
wider town centre. That is why I am optimistic. On the second
point, as I said, where people can buy things electronically at
home in their pyjamas, shopping centres and markets have to offer
something more, a destination point where people can go and meet
and congregate and access cultural and recreational servicesthat
is where local authorities need to be at.
Q336 David Wright: I have not bought
anything in my pyjamas yet. I would like to put that on the record!
You have described how you want to meet with the market sector,
you want to start to explore national issues. What links can you
see the Government developing in terms of using markets to promote
national policy goals? Healthy eating is a good example, the availability
of fresh fruit, the promotion of locally produced produce or fair
trade products in particular communities. What more can we do?
Mr Wright: I think Defra has been
very strong with regard to this and has helped push, promote and
to some extent fund the expansion of farmers' markets. Farmers'
markets typically seem to be the promotion of local produce, helping
local producers, and I think in terms of that, in terms of having
an impact upon the environment, reducing air miles with respect
to food produce, Defra has been quite strong. That is the key
consideration that I would mention. In terms of advocating fresh
fruit and vegetables, particularly locally produced, Defra has
provided help for farmers' markets.
Q337 David Wright: You have talked
a lot about town centre regeneration and I think we all accept
that markets can be a key component of that. I am just wondering,
if you are going to take a lead as a Minister, what other departments
you would see drawing in. Presumably Defra?
Mr Wright: I think Defra is important
in terms of food. What I would like to see, and it could be on
market stalls and it could be as part of the town centre and I
think this is very consistent with policy in this particular department,
is the Department of Health's policy that you push local health
services as locally as possible, and the idea of having health
checks, having GP practices or some degree of health service in
markets or in town centres I think needs to be explored more.
I think that is a potential avenue of growth. The Department for
Innovation, Universities and Skills has also got a bit of money
which is pushing forward the skills agenda, so having advice and
support and opportunities to access training in markets and in
town centres is another opportunity. It is all part of the answer
that I tried to give earlier to Anne in respect of accessing government
services at the very centre of town.
Q338 Anne Main: Who is going to take
the role of suggesting that to those departments? Who is going
to take the role of suggesting to health or to the education department
that maybe this is how you ought to be getting in contact with
local people? If nobody is going to champion it and suggest this
multi-faceted tool that could be the market to all these different
departments, how is it going to happen?
Mr Wright: I would suggest that
is already happening. With regard to the health example, the Department
of Health talks to primary care trusts which in turn commission
services, and that push, which, as I said, is very consistent
with trying to provide health services as locally as possible
Q339 Anne Main: We have not had express
representations to us saying this is happening. I would be quite
interested if we could have some evidence to show how widespread
that good practice you have just described is, because my understanding
was, talking to somebody we met on the market, that there were
a few odd pilot schemes here, possibly in areas of major deprivation,
but it certainly was not a widespread practice.
Mr Wright: Okay.