Councillors Criticise Plans to Privatise Market
At a Council meeting today councillors accused consultants of going beyond their remit in their £12,000 report which sets out dramatic proposals to privatise Kirkgate Market.
The Scrutiny Regeneration Board, who have been putting management of the market under the spotlight, were this morning presented with plans for the future of the market. Produced by Quarterbridge in just a few weeks, the report recommends that the council sign over the market to a Limited Liability Company for a 99 + year lease (memories of the corn exchange?) and despite investing £10m towards its refurbishment, would have to give up any controlling interest in the way that it is run.
Councillors on the board slammed the report which said that investors would only be interested in being involved in the market if they could be free from political influence and take part of the profit made from the rents
Councillors put officers on the spot with difficult questions about what would happen to future profits from the market. Despite the market being run down it still makes a healthy profit for the council which goes back into services for the citizens of Leeds. Neither Cath Follin, Head of City Centre and Markets nor Dave Outram, Chief Officer of the Public Private Partnership Unit were able to respond.
Coun Ralph Pryke Burmantofts and Richmond Hill testified to the level of public concern on this issue and said that he and other councillors had received a number of e-mails ahead of the meeting. Market traders also attended the meeting, understandably keen to have some clarification on what their future could be.
But as Coun Pauleen Grahame Cross Gates and Whinmoor pointed out, the report made little mention of retail and nothing that officers had so far not discussed the fate of traders who would have to reapply for their leases.
The report sets out a plan to drastically reduce the number of stalls and traders working in the market. The council publicity is quoting a 25% reduction in size but close reading of the document shows that the consultants are proposing approximately 100 stalls. This is almost a 2/3 reduction of the current number of stalls. A spokesperson for the traders association pushed this point further – asking for answers on trader evictions, rent increases.
It was clear that the mood of the meeting and the majority of councillors was that Executive Board should not make any decision to approve this report when there were so many gaps in information and confusions over such key areas as – profits and what this means for traders and their livelihoods. Chair of the Scrutiny Board Coun John Procter Wetherby said that the Executive Board could not possibly discuss this report without understanding if the private company set up to run the Market would expect to take the profit from the traders’ rents.
Thanks to all who wrote to the councillors sitting on the scrutiny board. It is really important that we all get in touch with our local councillors Find your Councillor to let them know what is at stake for our market.