Saturday 22 July 2023

Hackney is consulting on 'privatising' its street markets

Hackney is consulting on whether to move from its present "not for profit" management of its street markets to "for profit" management. The proposal is contained in section 6.5 "Review of traders fees and charges" of its draft Markets and Street Trading Strategy 2023-2018 . The Council's Cabinet Member, Councillor Susan Fajana-Thomas, states in her introduction that the Strategy will "help us to maximise and capitalise on the many commercial opportunities available to us". You can comment on the Strategy here

To date Hackney has managed Ridley Road and its other markets under the London Local Authorities Act 1990. This provides that the Council's fees and charges paid by traders are restricted to its reasonable administrative and other costs incurred in managing the market eg for issuing and enforcing licences, street cleaning, waste disposal etc. The Act also confers rights on traders - including consultation on licence terms and conditions, rights to succession by family members and to appeal to an independent Magistrates Court against unfair treatment.

Hackney is now considering running its markets under the Food Act 1984 which will remove the restrictions on what it can charge traders and abolish their statutory rights. In other words it can run its markets for profit on whatever licence terms it chooses to offer traders and, if there is a dispute and with no longer a right of an independent appeal, Hackney will become judge jury and executioner in its own cause. It seeks to justify these changes by stating that the existing legal requirements are "quite restrictive"and "not representative of trading in present times" and that the Food Act 1984 will provide the Council with" much more flexibility". ( These explanations by Council officers are wholly self-serving Ed.)

These are not the only changes the Council is proposing to increase its income from Hackney's markets to "secure the financial sustainability of the service". For example, it proposes introducing fixed penalty notices if stallholders breach any of the 250 regulations which were imposed on them in 2019 ( See "A licence for slavery") , to charge them "pay as you go" for electricity (presently covered by their licence fees) and to increase the number of shopkeepers paying shop-front trading licence fees

The Council's plans for its street markets have been foreshadowed by its scheme for management of Ridley Road's indoor market - the "Shopping Village". Hackney Mayor's report in January 2023 explained that management under the Food Act 1984 would provide "an opportunity to generate surplus income to the Council from rents and fees", that it has "no requirement for consultation or public approval on rentals" and that enforcement action against traders "doesn't end up with the Council facing an expensive visit to the magistrates court". The Council has stated that Shopping Village licence fees will rise by 80% in the third year after Hackney takes on a lease of the Shopping Village building.

There are of course plenty of fine words and lofty aspirations in the Council's draft Markets and Street Trading Strategy 2023-28, but the devil is in the detail. Management of Hackney's street markets under Food Act licences will remove Market Services incentives to act prudently and fairly. If the right of the market trader to appeal to an independent Court is removed, traders’ livelihoods will become dependent upon their relationships with individual Council officers which opens the possibility of both arbitrariness, unfairness and favouritism and potentially to allegations of perceived or actual corrupt relationships which would be detrimental to Market Service’s staff, to traders and to the Council’s reputation This would be a very regressive step and render the market as a less attractive workplace for existing and new traders

(PS: If you feel you've heard all this before, you probably have. Saving Ridley Road market as the home of the bargain is a constant battle waged by our community against profiteering developers and Council bureaucrats. See the 2008 post "Hackney beancounters go bananas in Ridley Road market" here. Ed.)