nabma – the voice of markets


I write this article as the voting for Britain’s Favourite Market has finished and the judging is about to take place. We have had another fantastic competition with around 125,000 votes cast for Britain’s Favourite Market and some wonderful markets represented in all sections of The Great British Markets Awards. Details of the winning markets will be highlighted elsewhere but I want to thank everyone who has supported this year’s event with particular thanks to KPR Midlink who have again generously sponsored the awards.
The Great British Market Awards were a focal point of our One Day Conference at Birmingham on the 26th January but the theme of that Conference was “Professionalising Markets” and we challenged delegates in a number of areas to make an honest appraisal of their current market offer.
The issue of management models was raised by the Government’s DCLG Select Committee with its Report on markets in 2008 and subsequently DCLG published a guidance note to market operators encouraging them to keep their management model under review.
There were a range of potential management models to consider and specific examples of how these models were currently being implemented. Eight years on from the Government Report we explored at Conference what progress is being made and whether there are any specific trends taking place within the markets industry. This was done with the aid of a survey undertaken by Colin Wolstenholme of Bradford Markets.
As a starting point it is perhaps helpful to look at the size of the markets industry and in particular the role played by local authorities who continue to be by far the biggest market operator.
When Nick Rhodes undertook the first detailed survey of the market industry in 2005 he identified around 1150 regular retail markets. The most recent survey, undertaken as part of Mission4Markets in 2016 came up with a figure of around 1227. As a general statement it appears the market industry is around the same size as it was ten years ago.
Nick Rhodes did not assess the local authority contribution in his research but Markets 21, research undertaken by Krys Zasada in 2009, suggested that local authorities were the main operators of markets with just under 60% of markets controlled or operated by them. When Mission4Markets came to examine the same issue in 2016 it found that the percentage of local authority markets had actually risen to around 66%.
These findings might surprise you but I have no reason to doubt their accuracy given the care and detail that went into producing the final figures of each of the different surveys.
While there is an increasing number of local authorities looking at potentially outsourcing their markets there appears to be mixed results. When we asked our membership for examples of how arrangements had worked we got some good and others not so good.
Delegates to the NABMA Conference in Birmingham in 2016 will remember the excellent presentation given by Dudley Council about the proposed trader management takeover of that market. Sadly twelve months on things have not worked out as well as expected and, later this year, Dudley will be looking at an alternative management arrangement.
Contrast that with Allerdale Council who have a private market operation and speak highly of how that partnership is working and the added benefit that derives from the market expertise brought in by the private operator. What is clear from the research we have undertaken is that there are local authority markets who think clearly about their markets needs and the best way that they can be operated but there are many more who are struggling with management arrangements.
Part of the reason for this  struggle emanates from the fact than many market managers do not know how their markets are performing. They either do not possess or are denied possession of the  information to make the relevant decisions.
Another significant factor is the tender process used by local authorities. A number of tenders I have seen suggest that local authorities are approaching matters as if they are buying a piece of equipment. There is no Market Plan. No aspiration of what the market is expected to achieve. I have said on repeated occasions markets should be a meaningful part of community and town centre strategies.
However while I can direct some criticism at local authorities I must also accept that NABMA needs to do more. We must provide case study examples. What works and what does not work. We must give more help to our members to ensure that markets feature in local authority plans and strategies. This has to be a priority for 2017. Getting the right management model is crucial to getting a successful market.