On 28th October we were pleased to be able to present some of the views and analysis of campaigners on markets to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Markets. We were invited by National Market Traders Federation (NMTF), which organises the group. One of the aims of the group is to increase the profile of markets with parliamentarians (MPs and Lords) and ministers. For an industry that employs 65,000 people directly, has a turnover of £3.3bn and occupies large sections of our towns and cities, markets are still quite under-represented and encounter a lack of interest from Government. Large corporate food retailers such as Tesco, by contrast, have a far more direct line to ministers and MPs. There are some major issues in the markets industry at the moment, for example the threat of the European Services Directive, which market bodies predict will have a damaging effect on competition and diversity in markets. We talked to the group of market industry leaders, MPs and peers about some of the issues and concerns raised by market campaigners, both traders and customers. The Chair of the APPG, Jim Fitzpatrick MP, took a great interest in our report.
Below are the key points we made. You can find our full report at http://tradmarketresearch.weebly.com/report.html
1. Markets are increasingly popular, but we need to be specific about who does and should benefit from them
Our research looks specifically at traditional covered and street markets selling a wide variety of goods, and 65% of them are local-authority run. These are the kinds of markets that citizens organise to protect and support. Both our research and NMTF/NABMA’s Mission 4 Markets suggest that local authorities do not always take an active role in managing their market well. In addition, the views of customers and traders about the market differ a great deal from the local authority, but there is little input. Campaigns tend to arise when there is an immediate threat or change to the market proposed but they react to long-term and deep-seated problems as well. There is actually very little research on what market or potential market customers want and need, and a tendency to lump markets in with other quite different retail spaces and opportunities.
2. The aims of market regeneration and the risk of trader and customer displacement
Through working with campaigns and being campaigners ourselves, we have identified a number of ways in which regeneration threatens the affordability, social appeal and social mix of markets. This is a general trend – obviously not all these changes are always present.
1) Tenure and rents - there is a shift to higher rents and a move from monthly/permanent licences to day trading
2) Product offer – away from high volume, low profit margin, essential goods, fruit and veg and toward selected produce, prepared and artisan food, at higher cost and lower volume
3) Customer profile – away from low/middle income, frequent, local, often elderly and ethnic minority customers towards higher-income, less frequent, tourists.
The result of these changes, we propose, is the displacement of lower-income/lower profit traders and customers. This is what we call retail gentrification.
3. Markets should be seen as an existing social asset rather than a future retail opportunity
Campaigners and researchers know and can prove that markets positively affect people’s health, purchasing power, social integration and interaction. Their present positive benefits are often overlooked by local government anxious for change, innovation and attracting wealthier customers and traders paying higher rents, on more flexible terms. Of course markets should and can adapt, but what market campaigners want primarily is for the positive social and cost aspects of their market to be maintained and cherished. Consultations on the future of markets are often extremely limited exercises in who they involve, how, what questions are asked and to what extent their findings are actually incorporated into development/regeneration plans. Several campaign groups have carried out their own research and consultation – in a few cases, this has resulted in their own regeneration and development strategies (e.g. Wards Corner in Seven Sisters).
4. Markets currently have limited options for protection as spaces of social justice and flourishing
Markets fall between public services, retail and asset management – we can see this in the way different local authorities manage them differently. For the private sector, they are seen as more straightforwardly commercial enterprises.
Campaigners struggle to use legislation to support the importance of markets as they see it. Some approaches they use include: The Localism Act – registering of Asset of Community Value (Limitations: only gives ‘right to bid’ which is beyond the power of many groups); Listing - Recognition of importance from an architectural or cultural reasons, leading to listing by Historic England (Limitations: relates to structure and features of building more than type of use/ tenancy). Campaign groups can also hold government to account by challenging plans using Public Sector Equality Duty or threatening or carrying out judicial review of planning decisions. Again, these only focus on certain obligations by local authorities and legal actions are time-consuming and sometimes costly.
5. What can MPs and peers do?
Engage with markets in your area, listen to the needs and issues of traders and customers, help promote and understand markets as contributing to wellbeing in the broadest sense – for example, low cost fresh food and social life.
In summary, the contribution of our campaigners is to frame markets as spaces of social value which give opportunities not merely for retail innovation but as a resource for those on low incomes and ethnic minorities. Increasing inequality and policy proposals like cuts to working tax credits make this only more important. The vital questions campaigners ask are: Who are markets for? Who should they be for? And they provide compelling answers which should be listened to and meaningfully acted upon.