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‘Independent Consultants’ Conflict of Interest

November 6, 2011

The council’s plan to shrink and privatise Leeds Kirkgate Market has taken another twist after it was revealed that the ‘independent consultant’ hired to advise on the Market’s future is actually a business specialising in turning traditional local authority markets into high-end food halls.

Last month, Leeds City Council announced it was seeking to hire specialist consultants to look into the ‘optimum size’ of the Market as well as explore options for private sector involvement in its management and ownership.

Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market has now discovered that the contract has been awarded to Quarterbridge Project Management Ltd, a company whose previous clients include Eastgate developer Hammerson, and the Dutch developer, MAB, whose controversial plans move Kirkgate Market into underground hall were fought off by mass public opposition in the 1980s.

A spokesperson for Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market said: “Bringing in outside expertise to help make decisions is one thing, but awarding the contract to a private company which specialises in running markets is clearly a conflict of interest at the very least. How can we trust that Quarterbridge will be ‘independent’ when they could be writing themselves a profitable role in the future of our market?”

We are calling on Leeds City Council and the directors of Quarterbridge to provide assurances, in writing, that neither Quarterbridge nor any of its subsidiary companies, have any interest, beyond their current role as consultants, in any aspect of the future redevelopment and management of Kirkgate Market. If they are not prepared or able to provide such reassurances then serious questions should be asked about how and why the decision to appoint Quarterbridge was made.

The brief that Quarterbridge Ltd will be working to does not require them to undertake any form of consultation with either traders or market shoppers.

The council are expecting final reports and recommendations for the future of the market to be delivered by the end of January 2012.

Despite the fact that the brief calls for detailed financial work and substantial soft market testing, the fee for three months work is just £12,400. This is an incredibly low figure for private consultants and raises more questions than it answers about why this company has accepted this particular piece of work.

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