St Johns Market- A tale of council incompetence!

So what toy story

Cllr Juarez and I visited the traders at St John’s Market for a 3rd time. At the committee this week we want the whole story and not the Toy Story!

You would think that after 810 years as a market authority we would have learned just a little bit about how to run a market. Apparently in the 810 years since we first received our Market Charter Liverpool City Council has learned nothing.

Cllr Juarez and I visited the market again today to hear first hand from the traders what their issues are. This is in advance of a meeting of the Regeneration Select Committee on Thursday when Cllr Juarez has a motion down for discussion.

Mirna and I felt humbled in the presence of the traders. These are people whose livelihoods have been threatened by council incompetence and many of them have had severe problems at home because of their money problems. Yet they were prepared to listen and talk to us; to make sure that we knew their side of the story and were coming up with very reasonable requests to the council to try, even at this late stage, to put things right.

This matter could not, under any circumstances, have been handled worse. Let’s start from a starting point which we can all agree on. The old St John’s Market was staggering along and had not adapted to modern times. Although 40/50 traders were making a reasonable living at the market the upper floor had not been used for years and there was a considerable danger of continued decline.

The first problem was that the Council conspicuously refused to involve traders in the design process. Who knows best how to make markets work? Two lots of people – the traders and the customers. Neither set was consulted.

This led to the second problem. No decision was made about what he market was for. Was it supposed to be cheap and cheerful or posh and attracting different customers. In some ways it does not matter what the choice was although I would have gone for the cheap and cheerful a decision should have been made and the design altered to meet that vision.

Thirdly a company was appointed that had no experience of designing markets. In some ways you might consider that this is not too important. Anyone can go and see successfully upgraded and modernised markets throughout the North of England. But clearly no-one went to look.

So a market was designed with all the feel of an accident and emergency unit. Dark cubicles, poor signage and poor attention to detail. Traders knew this was a problem and many decided, having seen it, not to come back. Others came in and left after a few weeks. The market now has only 29 traders, some might have been persuaded to stay by the actions of the Labour Council after Cllr Juarez went to visit and put down the motion which you can see below.

Then crass decision followed crass decision. Unbelievably for a retail place there was absolutely no marketing budget. Appallingly high rents were set which would have been difficult to achieve under any circumstances, but definitely difficult if there were no visitors.

With lots of empty spaces in what the council considered to be prime sites new businesses in the food sector were pushed to the periphery where there is next to no footfall.

The response from the council was dire. It was clear in early January that there were serious problems. A new manager was brought in but not allowed to manage. Traders debts grew and some left. Attempts to bring in new ideas such as a toddler’s area were rejected although this would have been a huge draw for mums to have a cup of tea, a cake and a chat whilst watching their children in the central area. The Council refused to engage, the new manager went and someone else has now been brought in.

The Mayor finally came to call properly. In his first visit, he met just two traders recently he came back to try and meet all the remaining traders but the council is still proceeding poorly. The long-term future of the market can only be assured if the council involve users and traders and do it quickly there is no sign of that happening.

Meanwhile most of the council seem to be bemused by the whole set of events. The Regeneration Select Committee should already have set up a ‘task and finish group’ to look at these problems, decide what went wrong and made recommendations. BUT they did not do so. Labour Councillors are not allowed to scrutinise the Executive without permission from the Executive!!

So we are where we are! Cllr Juarez will move her motion in committee and we all hope, especially the traders, that it will be supported by the committee. I fear that politics will get in the way. That is sad because this is people’s livelihoods we are talking about here and perhaps that of their family as well. I attach Cllr Juarez’s motion below tell her what you think about it at mirna.juarez@liverpool.gov.uk. Above all pop in to the Market and spend a few bob. There are some good traders and more than a few bargains to be had there!!

Motion to the Regeneration Select Committee

Cllr Mirna Juarez

This Committee notes with concern the serious problems being faced by market traders at St John’s Market where only 29 out of 140 units are currently taken and with some traders giving notice to terminate their lease as they are currently not even covering their costs.

It resolves therefore to establish a ‘Task and Finish Group’ to:

  1. Review how the council can have spent £2.5 million on such a poorly designed market which has ignored all the opinions of experienced market traders and best practice in market design;
  2. Review all aspects of the capital programme for the market including
  3. Review how the council can redesign the market in such a way as to give high quality physical conditions in which a market can thrive rather than the soulless sterile feel of the current market.
  4. Establish appropriate relationships between the council and the market traders
  5. Look at the development of a marketing campaign to attract both customers and traders to the market
  6. Develop a programme of events to enable some life to be given to the market to create an appropriate atmosphere.

The Task and Finish Group to be composed equally of traders and councillors.

The Task and Finish Group to meet urgently to consider these and other appropriate matters with a view to completing their report by the end of September.

It requests the Mayor and Cabinet to give urgent consideration to a 50% reduction in rent levels at the market until the proposals of the Task and Finish Group can be implemented following the reporting of the Task Group to Cabinet.

So what happened at the committee?

After 35 years membership of the Council I should know better than to expect the Labour Party either to behave properly or allow proper debate and scrutiny. Before Cllr Juarez moved her motion she asked for permission for a representative of the Traders to speak. That was refused. After she spoke I asked to speak (I am not a member of the Committee). I wasn’t allowed to speak. Instead the Labour moved an amendment which removed the idea of a joint committee with the Traders to look at the past and more importantly the future. They also agreed to get a  report back by December instead of September.

These two changes were crucial. Firstly many of the traders will go out of business if decisions are not made quickly. decisions need to be made which will help them with their crucial Christmas trade. the Labour amendment put things into the long grass. Secondly, the Traders put no trust in vague promises of consultation. After years of being ignored they sought the certainty of a mechanism put in place and run by the council as a whole and not by the Cabinet Members who have caused the problem in the first .

Every time the Labour Party gag a Lib Dem  it tells people that they are scared of the facts, the truth and democracy. My colleagues and I will not be deterred by their scurrilous behaviour. We will fight on for the people of Liverpool.

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. . Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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