Structural Change to Local Government



“Are local authorities the best organisations to be running large retail operations?
"We can’t take risks with public money or make decisions quickly.”
Market Manager, Cambridge Roadshow


Local authorities are still the main provider of markets. In 2009 the Markets 21 survey reported that around 68 per cent of markets were operated by local authorities. There has been no significant change in this figure. But the changing nature of local government, coupled with the stringent financial conditions that many local authorities have experienced in recent years, prompt serious questions about the continuing role of local authorities. 


Currently we have 16 elected Mayors, but the Government wants to go further and establish Combined Authorities and Regional Mayors, particularly in what is now described as the “Northern Powerhouse”. The initial reaction has been mixed but if the Government’s proposals are fully implemented it will lead to a centralisation of services and the possibility of Combined Authorities taking on the role of markets in a strategic context.


Earlier this year the Cross River Partnership published “Sustainable Urban Markets” setting out an Action Plan for London. Among a wide cross section of recommendations was a proposal to establish a London Markets Board bringing markets across the capital together.








“As a local authority we need to review our model of market management.
"We’re tighter on resources than ever before and it may be that the service needs to be outsourced.”
Market Manager, Ashton-under-Lyne Roadshow


Following the publication of Markets 21 NABMA and the NMTF worked with the Government on various guidance to assist in implementing the recommendations of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee Report on Markets. One of the results of this partnership working was the publication of guidance on market management models. A copy of the guidance can be accessed here and it remains as relevant today.


The starting point of the guidance is that “it is good practice for any business to regularly review the effectiveness and efficiency of its operation”. The guidance goes on to describe a number of situations in which local authorities have changed the management model of its markets to provide a greater opportunity for future success.


Sadly not enough local authorities have responded to the advice. There is little evidence to suggest that there is a significant number of local authorities looking at the overall delivery of their markets service and assessing whether the current model is the most appropriate for their market.


It is right to acknowledge that there are still many outstanding local authority markets. NABMA’s Great British Market Awards illustrate this fact every year and these markets contribute in many ways to the success of places they serve. But in many local authorities there is a willingness to let markets gradually die rather than undertake a thorough assessment of whether a changed management model will give a market a chance of a future life.


Where there has been an appetite for change coupled with a willingness to take markets seriously then recent years have seen some outstanding successes. In Stratford-upon-Avon a tendering process led to the creation of a local authority/private market operator partnership underpinned by a Markets Forum that includes representation from all relevant stakeholders.


Stratford is not unique in terms of a two-tier system of local government and, given the strong community focus attached to markets, more District and Unitary Councils are urged to follow the example of Stratford and seek to work in partnership with their Parish and Community Councils to provide a market service.


More Parish and Community Councils are taking on a more significant role in delivering services and voluntary co-operation between the two tiers of local government is to be encouraged.


But voluntary co-operation is not always necessary. Following the introduction of the Localism Act 2011 there is an opportunity for Parish Councils and local community groups to express an interest in taking over the running of a local authority service. The act covers markets.


The provisions of the legislation provide for what is called a “community challenge” and, where such challenge is made, the local authority must consider and respond to the challenge. Where it accepts the challenge the local authority must run a procurement exercise for the service involved.


While it appears that there have only been a limited number of successful community challenges, one of them concerns a market service previously operated by East Herts District Council.


In 2013 Bishop’s Stortford Town Council submitted a community challenge to East Herts Council regarding the running of the Bishop’s Stortford market. This resulted in a procurement exercise and in December 2014 the Town Council was notified that it had been successful. The Town Council was due to take over the market in 2015 and it will be interesting to see how they progress. 


In recent years, despite the financial challenges facing many local authorities, we have seen additional investment in markets. In a number of places this investment has been coupled with the introduction of a new management model.


Harborough District Council invested almost £500,000 in major refurbishment of Market Harborough market. Trader operated markets are worth serious consideration. The NMTF provides excellent guidance and support on the action that traders need to take if considering a management role.


There are a number of other markets where there is a real prospect of traders taking on management responsibility. In the majority of cases the markets are comparatively small but the trend appears to be changing. Currently negotiations are at an advanced stage in Dudley where, following a multi-million pound redevelopment of the town centre, including the market, there is a prospect of the traders, having formed themselves into a limited liability company, taking over the responsibility for the running of the market later in the year.


Each year NABMA undertakes a survey of retail markets and one of the significant developments in recent years has been the growth of markets organised by social enterprise and community groups.


Many of the markets organised by social enterprise and community groups offer excellent examples of how markets should be run. Levenshulme Market near Manchester is a great example of a social enterprise project.


Another community market that has had a big impact is Queen’s Crescent Market in Kentish Town, London. Queen’s Crescent Community Association’s vision is to regenerate the market aesthetically, environmentally and financially so it can make an even greater contribution to the local economy. In line with this vision, the Association has worked hard to pioneer its own Entrepreneurship Project. The project offers local unemployed people the opportunity to start their own market business and provides work experience for young people on existing stalls.


The Entrepreneurship Project is an excellent example of how markets can develop new traders and secure the future of the markets industry. The examples quoted in this section represent only a small number of the markets where changed management structures offer optimism of a brighter future.


Of course not every market can look forward to a successful future and in some instances markets will have to close. The predictions in Markets 21 about the possible number of closures appear to have been overstated but this might be because some local authorities are maintaining markets that really have no future.


Over the last five years NABMA and the NMTF have taken the lead on encouraging local authorities to look at their markets service, consider what they can do to improve the offer, and plan for the future. The onus rests on all local authorities to look at the good practice that exists, consider the range of different management options and see what the best fit for their market is.


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