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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320 - 339)



  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 that?

  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 them?

  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 the once.

  Q331  Mr Hands: Would you therefore be in a position to be able to answer the next question—I am not sure if you would—as 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 of markets?

  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 that.

  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 up there.

  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 to BERR?

  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 years—and, Anne, this is going back to your point that perhaps a lot of local authorities have shunted markets into a back corner—I 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 services—that 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.

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