Market Inquiry. Part 4 (8/03/2011)
These are the delayed minutes of the 4thMARCH session of the City Development Scrutiny Board Inquiry into the future of the market which FOLKM has been attending as witnesses. Apologies for the delay. Reports of previous sessions can be found here: Session 1, Session 2, Session 3. There has been no discussion about the Market in the April meeting of the City Develoment Scrutiny Board so we will have to wait for the May meeting for their report.
Present from Leeds City Council Sue Burgess, Market manager and Paul Stephens from City Development
Present from Traders Jo Williams, Liz Laughton, Michelle Hocken and Pav
Present from National Federation of Market Traders – John Perriton
Present from Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market – Sara Gonzalez
This is the 4th part of this inquiry.
The meeting started with Councillor Procter thanking traders for the making him feel welcome at the market the day before when he was a “trader for a day” at Bethel fish stall talking to other traders, customers and understanding the situation of the market. The experience was very interesting and enlightening, he has now changed his mind about various things and understand traders’ concerns much better. Councillor Harper who had been “trader for a day” on the previous Friday also thanked traders – he had had a job as a 16 year old in Butchers Row and in the Nut Shop, the experience was enjoyable and eye opening, you can see traders’ problems and how much members of the public enjoy the market.
Paul Stephens presented a report on the latest meetings and developments since the last scrutiny session. 2 meetings of the Market Forum had taken place. A workshop on the different market management models took place on the 2nd of March with trader representatives and FOLKM, which we have reported on before here. This workshop started with a discussion to try to establish some consensus. 3 areas of consensus were found (this is not rocket science – he says): major investment is needed, market management needs to be fast and efficient, the markets needs to become a destination. These three areas were then tested against different management models. There was no support amongst those present for the market being wholly managed by the traders and neither by a private company. Views expressed were varied and expressed only those of the individuals present and not of the organisations they represented. Councillor Harper then reported on the Market Forum meetings. He said they had had a frank and wide ranging discussion about how the market could improve. The last meeting had mainly dealt with the Eastgate development and there is a wish for developers to get involved so they are now going to get invited to a Market Forum meeting. There had also been a discussion about how to finance the needed investment. These have been useful meetings, says Harper.
Councillor Ron Graham, new to scrutiny board declared a vested interest as he has been shopping at the market all his life every week. He asks officers how many social enterprises are in the market.
Jo Williams from the Traders side made a presentation. She asked about the strategy and the fact that nothing has been produced by officers since last scrutiny board meeting. She then tackled one by one the main issues: lettings, eastgate. She showed concern that neither Cath Follin nor Martin Farringdon were there at the table to respond (Cath Follin was in the audience). She repeated what she said at the last session that Sue Burgess had little room of manoeuvre because of all the people she has to report to. She also said that most or all of the people in charge of the market lack retail or commercial experience. She asked where the Market strategy was.
John Perriton from the NFMT made a point around lack of training and management experience amongst market managers around the country.
Sara Gonzalez from FOLKM made two points. She noted that FOLKM were disappointed by the narrowness of the Market Forum to which theye were not invited. She said that this forum should include other partners with interest in the market and the city, f.e. she went to a meeting with the Civic Trust where members showed concern about latests developments. Also the majority of the traders and overwhelming majority of the public don’t know anything about these discussions. The second point was about the management models workshop. She reiterated after Paul Stephens that this should not be taken as a consultation event and asked what would happen next with this discussion.
Councillor Procter responded that this would form part of their report.
Paul Stephens in response said that the strategy had not been sent yet because they were waiting for recommendations from scrutiny board, results of the consultation and the Market Forum meetings to then finalise the strategy and present it to Executive Board. In terms of the financial information requested by traders a lot of information has been presented by officers. Sue Burgess says that a lot of financial information has been presented and service charge accounts have been made available. She also notes that she is member of few retail associations. She mentions that management has been having conversations about how to use the money to improve the customer experience (£500,000 had been committed). She says that we need to improve the public perception of the market and lists a series of ideas, proposals, initiatives: social media campaign to engage non users or under users, the offer also needs to be improved, support for small entrepreneurs the how bazaar initiative has been successful so it is going to be extended. She hopes to talk more to universities, a new customer base needs to be built, the age of the customers is a concern, she has listening and implemented changes around the “yellow line” and she has great sympathy for traders’ concerns.
Councillor Protect then said that as he had been happy to report how welcomed he had felt by traders on the previous day he was sad to say that he did not get the same reception by market staff, which he found deeply troubling. He was surprised and shocked at the level of issues that are there. He now understands many of the issues. It is a pity that for example the market management has stopped going to the coaches fair where tourist tours are planned. He said that the lack of young customers he thought was a “red herring” and that he saw plenty of young people (about 80% of customer he saw). He also asked to officers if they understood what lied behind traders concern over the 10% discount scheme. Sue Burgess said that they have now discontinued this scheme and there have been no new applications since the new year. Councillor Procter said that some of the rents were “staggering”. He said that long established traders found it unfair that new traders would get such discounted rents. There is a need to have a much better dialogue.”Not a single thing I heard yesterday seemed unreasonable”.
It was then opened for councillors to ask questions. One question was addressed to officers to show examples of how dialogue with traders was turning into action. Sue Burgess responded talking about the “yellow line” discounted rent and cleaningness and improving the appearance of empty units. However Councillor Procter reported seeing debris around empty units and rubbish.
Councillor Akhtar asked how big the management staff at the market was. Sue Burgess responded that it was a team of 45 not full time and working in two shifts. Akhtar then showed surprise that Councillor Procter would have not seen any members of the staff with so many there. He showed concern that so many people on public sector jobs paid by tax payer’s money would be involved. He said lessons had not been learnt and a different kind of management body was needed, with a lead member paying close attention; 45 staff was ridiculous.
Procter said that while at the market he had had a look at the accounts and for him these were “random numbers”. He has experience in accountancy and looking at the market accounts he had many questions.
Sue Burgess then clarified on few issues: even though nobody from the markets team had gone to the coaches fair they had been represented by the city development team. She explained that the 10% discount scheme had been discontinued and that for new traders they had a new scheme. When established traders come with problems they will do all they can to help them when new traders ask for help they get a 25% of the rent going up to 100% in 6 months. There are now 60 vacant units and 22 on discounted 10%.
Councillor Akhtar asked how much the 60 vacant units cost and questioned these different schemes. He asked why not reduce rents?
Councillor Atha asked Sue Burgess to explain the management hierarchy – who she reports to. Sue Burgess responded: Sue Burgess -> Cath Follin -> Paul Stephens -> Martin Farrington -> Chief Executive. She was then to comment on to what extent she was free to take decisions. She replied that the was a conflict between a public sector structure and a commercial organisation.
Councillor Ron Graham asked traders what would they do to change things? Liz Laughton replied a clean sweep of the management structure.
Councillor Rafique acknowledged that some positive changes had happened since the inquiry started. He had not heard the traders’ view on what to do with vacant units. He still thought that market should remain in City Centre development department and stressed the idea of flexibility and opening hours.
Councillor Procter concluded that there will be recommendations at the next scrutiny board meeting.