Gareth Bacon is the Conservative regeneration spokesman on the London Assembly.
Despite the size of the capital, London is in essence a market town. Ever since the establishment of Leadenhall market by the Romans almost two-thousand years ago, London has had a booming market industry. Markets are a boon to the city as they provide jobs to local people and add to the cultural heritage of a neighbourhood. In addition, our most famous markets are magnets for tourists and key attractions for visitors to the capital. All in all, London’s markets contribute significantly its ongoing economic and cultural success.
But many of London’s street markets are in real danger. The rise of shopping centres, poor council investment decisions and planning regimes that do not promote the expansion of markets all serve to undermine these vital components of the economy. Whereas most privately-run or -owned markets are booming, in this business environment many of those run by local councils are struggling.
Research in my recent report, Market Stalled, indicates that since 2008, while 15 new private sector markets have been created in London, there has been a net loss of three council-run markets. This means that, even though some new local authority markets had been created (four), seven had closed over that same period.
The reasons for this decline, which can largely be left at the door of maladroit councils, are likely to persist in the long-run unless urgent action is taken. Research by my office has estimated that, over the next 18 years, one in five of all council-run markets in London will shut up shop for good. This would be disastrous for the local customers that rely on these markets for their daily shop, would put thousands of market traders out of the job and would have deeply a damaging impact on the local economies of the areas in which the markets were situated.
Because of this, it is vital that the Mayor of London and London boroughs work together and step in to save our markets from extinction. By intervening and preventing their closure, these markets would continue to generate an average of £44 million per annum for the capital and £792 million over the 18-year period. When taking into consideration the wider economic benefit to local businesses and communities, these markets would also continue to generate an average of £1.4 billion for London.
In order for London’s markets to thrive and fully realise their economic and social potential, they must first be relieved of the bureaucratic constraints imposed on them by local councils. This will only happen once the traders themselves are placed in the driving seat.
Privatisation of London’s markets, either in the form of trader buy-out or external firms bidding to manage them with trader participation, is essential for their long-term survival. It is critical that markets are given the tools they need to succeed, and by attracting external investment and empowering market traders to decide the direction their own markets, boroughs would ensure that struggling markets are able to turn themselves around. Given that the threat of closure is very often a product of local authority mismanagement, continuing under council control is simply not an option.
London’s street markets must be nurtured if they and the local people they serve are to prosper. Privatising them and putting the traders in charge would guarantee that these valuable economic, cultural and social assets will not only survive, but thrive.