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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340 - 355)



  Q340  Chair: Can I just follow up on that point? In the evidence from the Department, Minister, it was stated that the Government intends to develop detailed policy statements over the coming months, "offering advice and guidance at the local level" based on the Markets Policy Framework produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group. How far have you got in those policy statements and is it going to cover the sorts of detailed issues that we are currently talking about?

  Mr Wright: We are at a relatively early stage in respect of that. The timescale is the next couple of months and what I would like to see is an element of consistency with regard to that wider planning policy statement of Planning for Prosperous Economies, which I think is very important as well, so I will keep you very closely posted on that.

  Q341  Anne Main: Minister, could I ask you though, because you did not answer my question, I am sorry to say, what information have any of the departments been given, and can we have evidence that they are actually disseminating this good practice, that it is not just the odd pilot scheme? Also, who would co-ordinate those best practices that you think are happening? How do we know? Who is doing it?

  Mr Wright: I have mentioned two. This is on the wider point of town centre management and that point which I think is very important about providing a vision about what a town centre does. In the 21st century what can it offer local people? I would suggest that it needs to be more than just shops. It needs to offer that wider point about government services, about health, about retail. In terms of trying to address that whilst at the same trying to address the specific concerns of the recession, you may be aware of the announcement and the publication of new guidance last week from the Secretary of State from my Department, Hazel Blears, and also Andy Burnham at DCMS, which is what town centres need to do in the current recession. It could be to try and be as flexible as possible, to use vacant units to encourage community groups, voluntary residents' associations and health groups in order to push that vision.

  Q342  Anne Main: I was specifically talking about markets. The one thing about markets is that you do not have to take a shop unit for six months or a year. You could have a stall for a week here, a week there. It can be an ever-evolving process, assuming there is a vacancy, and you did suggest, before you moved helpfully on to retail units that might be empty, that you thought that this would be a vehicle for delivery of other government areas of concern, such as healthy eating and information about benefits, and you mentioned some sort of medical advice one-stop shop. Leaving aside the empty retail units, is there anything you are going to be doing to markets to say that this is how this is going to happen?

  Mr Wright: I think one of the things that government has to grapple with is how it gets its message across on a whole variety of things. In the electronic age, in terms of whether we use but also for people who may not have access to the internet in deprived areas like my own, how do you get that message across? I will hold my hands up again and say I think we can be pushing that a lot more in terms of using markets, using places where people congregate to get important government messages across.

  Anne Main: So how would it happen?

  Q343  Chair: There are two slightly separate things here, both of which are important. One is the use of markets to get messages out, but the other issue behind that, and I am not clear whether it is going to be within this advice and guidance that you are currently considering, is the role of markets in delivering wider national policy goals, one of which, for example, is access, for people on low incomes, to fresh fruit and vegetables. Many people say that markets are a really good way of doing that. That appears to be a national policy goal. Is that going to be one of the things that is spelt out in the advice and guidance at a local level on markets, for example?

  Mr Wright: Let me go away and look at that in particular with regard to health. Can I mention another matter, which is—

  Q344  Chair: Hang on a minute. In terms of the work which the Department has done thus far on the advice and guidance at local level which you are apparently developing over the next few months, have other departments already been asked to contribute to that?

  Mr Wright: I am not entirely certain so I will need to check.

  Q345  Chair: Who has been doing it within your Department then?

  Mr Wright: In terms of the ministerial responsibility or in terms of officials, because there are officials working on it?

  Q346  Chair: So there are officials working on it, but who has ministerial responsibility?

  Mr Wright: I have ministerial responsibility.

  Q347  Chair: But you do not know exactly what they are up to?

  Mr Wright: Can I mention a specific example from my own constituency with regard to getting the message across? In terms of jobs, Hartlepool remains relatively high in terms of unemployment. There is an agency funded by the local authority called Hartlepool Working Solutions, and we have an indoor covered market in Hartlepool where a stall was taken—

  Q348  Mr Hands: We are back to your ministerial responsibility.

  Mr Wright: I think it is very important that local authorities also have a role to play in terms of different agencies.

  Q349  Chair: Hang on; we are not letting you off the hook so quickly. As you know, we are in the middle of writing up our report on the balance of power between central and local government, so take it as read that we do not think that you should be, Stalinist-like, telling councils that they need to do this and they need to do that. What we are asking is whether, if government believes that there are some national policy goals, of which an example would be access to cheap fruit and veg which can be delivered through markets, that sort of guidance, not instruction but guidance, is part of these detailed policy statements which your Department is currently developing. That is the first question.

  Mr Wright: And I would certainly say that is my ambition, yes.

  Q350  Chair: The second thing then, since it is quite clear that these policy things are pretty vague at the moment, is that it would be very helpful to us as a Committee to know the timescale on which they are going to be finalised so that we can make sure that our report gives you lots of stuff that you can put in these policy guidelines.

  Mr Wright: I will certainly make sure in the next couple of days that you get the timescales.

  Chair: That would be extremely helpful.

  Q351  Anne Main: Since you are responsible for markets, and obviously we have just mentioned health, who would be liaising between those other departments? Who will have the responsibility to do that?

  Mr Wright: In terms of liaising with regard to make sure that a planning policy statement is published?

  Q352  Anne Main: No, no. If there is a health objective, for example, so that is the Department of Health, not DCLG, who is going to be talking to the Department of Health to ensure that what they wish to happen is reflected in your planning policy guidances?

  Mr Wright: Officials from my Department will be liaising with their counterparts in the Department of Health.

  Q353  Anne Main: Is that happening at the moment? Has that all been set up?

  Mr Wright: My understanding is that it has, yes.

  Q354  Anne Main: So there will be an official liaising with BERR, because it is the business side of it?

  Mr Wright: Yes. There are also very strong links with Defra.

  Anne Main: Defra is an obvious one, if I might say. It is the other parts that are not so obvious that we are trying to get at.

  Q355  Chair: It is also within your own Department. There is a role for markets within community cohesion, for example, but it is within whatever bit it is of the Department that is doing markets.

  Mr Wright: My understanding is that, yes, it is.

  Chair: I think, Minister, we might have to write to you after this with a series of questions to make sure we have covered everything, but we would certainly like a note from you afterwards on the time line so that we can make sure that we can contribute to this area of policy which is clearly quite skeletal at the moment.

  Anne Main: But vital.

  Chair: But vital, absolutely. Thank you very much, Minister.

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