Unveiled! The Council’s privatisation plan for the Market
Council plans to reduce the size of the market and pass it over to the private sector are now out in the open.
In the controversial press briefing which sparked angry scenes in the market earlier this month (see previous post) the Council announced it would be drafting in private consultants to outline plans for the future ownership and management of the market. Despite repeated public denials that the council had no intention to pass the market to a private company, the brief to consultants specifically asks them to explore options for “ soft market testing for the selection of a private sector partner/investor” (page 3 of the tender document for consultants)
FOLKM provided evidence and attended every sitting of councillors’ recent Scrutiny Inquiry into the future of the market. The final scrutiny report demanded that a new Management committee be set up with a strengthened role for the traders and business representatives (Recommendation 1 in this document) with the management and operation of the market “remaining with the council”. However, officers decided to ignore this recommendation and instead proposed “ownership and management of Kirkgate Market to transfer to an arms length management organisation (ALMO)” (paragraph 3.1. here). Last July (2011), the Council’s Executive Board approved this recommendation after a very short discussion which dismissed comparisons with the Corn Exchange fiasco as ridiculous. The transfer of the management and ownership of the market to an ALMO is something that neither the public nor traders have been properly consulted on despite its huge significance. What is clearer from the tender to the private consultants is that the council is now considering this ALMO to be run in some kind of partnership between a private company and the council. This could take many forms, but other management options, such as a social enterprise, trust or cooperative appear to have been dismissed without any proper consideration.
We have also discovered that leading council officials with responsibility for the Market have been making statements about the benefits of private sector involvement in markets. At a conference of market bosses last month, Leeds Kirkgate Market Manager, Sue Burgess, told delegates that “privately owned markets have a number of advantages over local council run spaces.” (link to document soon). And at a recent meeting with Leeds Victorian Society, Head of City Centre and Markets, Cath Follin said that the Council was interested in working with the private sector and referred to Liverpool as an example – the markets in Liverpool are managed by the UK branch of a massive European market operating company – Geraud.
The Council’s official line on the market size continues to be ‘no decision has been made’ and this will no doubt be their line right up until the moment when the wrecking balls are brought in. We have already reported on how Markets Champion Coun Harper thinks that the 1976/1981 halls should be pulled down What the Council Really Wants to do to the Market. The size of the Market was never discussed in the whole Scrutiny Inquiry (we have compiled all Scrutiny Documents here) however reducing the size of the Market was mysteriously inserted as a last minute recommendation of the Scrutiny Inquiry.
The Councils’ rhetoric about the 1987/1981 halls, where about half of the indoor traders are situated, has recently begun to change in preparation for their intended destruction. Council statements describe them as “temporary hangar structures” – “beyond economic repair” “temporary extensions” – and costing “millions of pounds” to repair See Recent Press Release Friends of Kirkgate Market has seen documents which put the cost for repairing the roof at between £200,000 and £800,000 – completely contradictory figures, but clearly not millions.
The Council is aiming to have the consultants appointed by the end of October – at the moment they are refusing to unveil how much they will be spending on this appointment but we know that they are rushing this process through and within just a few months councillors could be asked to approve plans for the market to be transformed beyond recognition.
The Council has also appointed a “Project Board” to oversee the next steps in the future of the Market yet incredibly no Market traders or councillors have been appointed to this important group – instead it is being run by top council managers including the Head of Finance, Chief of the Public Private Partnership Unit, Acting Chief Asset Manager, Head of Property, etc…(See the Terms of Reference of this Board here). In sum, people whose job is to see market as a property asset and not as a social and public asset.
Now is the time to get organised. Let your councillor know why you value Kirkgate Market, why you want it to remain a publicly owned, public space for everyone in Leeds. Show solidarity with traders, shop at the Market and come to our meetings. The next one is this next Wednesday 19th of Oct at 6pm at the Vic.