Traders protest at being locked out of future plans meeting
There were incredible scenes down at the Market on Friday (September 30) as traders staged a spontaneous protest after being shut out of a Council press briefing to discuss the future of the market.
Late on Thursday afternoon traders discovered that a press briefing was being held in the market the following day. The meeting, called by the Council’s ‘Markets Champion’ Councillor Harper (pictured left) was to discuss details of “…how the proposals for the future of the market are taking shape.”
This bizarre move to bypass traders and provide information first to the media, came just days after council officers and market managers were publicly taken to task for failing to communicate properly with traders over the future of the market.
On Tuesday this week, Councillor John Proctor, chair of the Regeneration Scrutiny Meeting condemned Councillor Harper and others for their lack of transparency and for failing to involve traders in discussions on the future size and ownership of the market. He was also outraged at the lack of information being provided not only to traders but also to the scrutiny committee.
So what was their response to calls for more information, greater transparency and more meaningful engagement with traders? To stage a private meeting in the market with the press that excluded traders! The media briefing contained worrying news – the Council has now put out a tender to recruit a private consultant to draw up plans which could see not just the management, but also the ownership of the market itself passed to the private sector (details will follow in another post soon).
Trader representatives assumed initially that they would be able to attend the meeting which directly affects their livelihoods and futures. But market manager, Sue Burgess, told them they were barred. She said that Councillor Harper would only meet with traders after he’d spoken to the press. Undettered by this snub, a delegation of traders tried to attend the meeting being held upstairs in the Markets office. Physical force was used to exclude traders and customers and market security was called while members of the press were sneaked upstairs to the secret meeting.
Traders were so angry at the way they had been sidelined that they staged a spontaneous protest outside the market’s office on George Street. Traders, shoppers and several members of Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market blew whistles, shouted and encouraged passing cars and taxis to honk their horns to disrupt the meeting that was taking place.
After an hour of noisy protest, which attracted the support of passing customers – and several police officers – Councillor Harper swiftly led the journalists to the upstairs balcony of the 1904 (upper) hall to hold interviews for BBC Leeds. He was followed by a growing crowd who drowned out his interview with whistles and chants of ‘Talk to us first – not the media’ and ‘Shame on you’.
We understand from speaking to journalists afterwards that Councillor Harper had once again repeated his previous pronouncements that if it was up to him, he would get rid of the two lower halls and make the Market smaller. It’s no surprise that he didn’t want traders there to interrupt his sales pitch. The official line of course is that ‘no decisions have been made yet’ but it seems obvious to everyone that the Council is determined to shrink the market and wilfully ignore any arguments about the rents being too high.
When he finally came down from the balcony, Harper faced angry criticism from traders who had gathered for pushing ahead with dramatic plans to change the market without consulting or even informing traders. He further fuelled traders’ anger and frustration when he accused market representatives of not passing information onto other traders. In a manipulative attempt to create division between traders he said:
“We have told the traders, your representatives: if they haven’t passed it on, that’s not my fault.” Within the hour he was apparently denying ever making this statement – but unfortunately for him, it was recorded by a BBC Radio Leeds journalist and later played on the news.
Harper was later challenged about his snub to traders in a live interview on BBC Radio Leeds where he admitted that the traders had deliberately not been notified about the press briefing but were to be told after the media, adding: “One hour wouldn’t have any difference.” He seems unable to grasp the basic principle at stake here – that traders should be told first about everything that affects them and the Market, not the media. He also dismissed the idea that traders could run the Market themselves, stating: “It’s not possible, they wouldn’t have the experience to run a market… It’s not something they could do.”
Keep checking our website for our next post on the council’s plans to reduce the size of the market and sell it off.