What a great One Day Conference we had at Birmingham. The reactions from our delegates suggested that it was one of our best ever.

Over ninety per cent of delegates rated the Conference good/very good. Indeed the event is now almost becoming too big for the Council House at Birmingham but we are reluctant to leave such a prestigious venue where we have held the event for the last ten years.

I was particularly pleased with the overall quality of the presentations and their relevance to what we are trying to achieve going forward. Encouraging young people to be involved in markets has been a central theme of Love Your Local Market since its inception and, in this context, it was great to hear about the progress being made by the Teenage Market. They have a target for the current year of fifty Teenage Markets and I am sure they will go a long way to achieving that target. We heard at Conference how The Teenage Market is beginning to create a legacy in certain areas and this is great news for sustaining the future of this wonderful initiative.

We also heard about the steps being taken by Kirklees Council to work with their local College and University. Kirkless have found a great collaborator and supporter to work with and this makes a big difference but alerting young people to the possibilities offered by market trading and getting elements of market trading included in the syllabus are important stepping stones in the wider promotion of markets. Kirkless are intending to have a Market Day at Huddersfield College and I am hoping they will be able to provide a template that others can use. Watch out for further details.

I am really excited by the news that NABMA and NMTF will be working together to promote Youth Markets as part of Love Your Local Market and that representatives of local Youth Markets will go forward to the National Youth Market to be held in Manchester on the 2nd and 3rd September. Further details of this project will be available shortly and will be covered at our forthcoming Regional Meetings.

We are holding five meetings. Market Harborough on the 15th March, Gloucester on the 23rd March, Leeds on the 13th April ,Bury on the 20th April and London on the 27th April. This is an opportunity for market operators, traders and anyone with an interest in markets to come together and hear about what is happening in the markets industry. A chance to network and meet colleagues in an informal atmosphere. I hope to see many of your readers at one or other of the events. If you are interested in attending contact NABMA at nabma@nabma.com.

At the beginning of February I had the chance to meet Marcus Jones MP, Minister for High Streets and Markets, together with Jim Fitzpatrick, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Markets Group, and Joe Harrison of the NMTF.

The purpose of the meeting was to go through the Markets Manifesto with the Minister.

Marcus Jones has already demonstrated his support for markets. He has visited several markets in his first year as a Minister, spoke at our Conferences and also secured funding for our LYLM campaign. He was very receptive to our Manifesto proposals. In particular he made it clear that the government would work with the markets industry to find an outcome on the European Services Directive that would be mutually acceptable.

This means that market rights can still be used by market operators provided they are backed up by a clear policy which is both reasonable and proportionate. If anyone wants advice on what this means in practice please contact me for advice.

On the important issue of business rates we asked for a continuance of the small business rates relief currently available for many market traders, clearer guidance on the position between street trading and markets and a revised methodology which reflects that many markets are being subsidised by local authorities.

I see that the issue of extended Sunday trading hours has again raised its head with a proposal that local authorities be given discretion to make changes to the existing legislation. When NABMA undertook a survey of members last year there was only limited support for the proposal but of course many markets, being outdoor events, are not subject to the requirements of the legislation.

I do not see any harm with introducing local arrangements provided that there is proper consultation with market stakeholders before any final decisions are taken. Markets have to respond to changing retail patterns but if they are to open on a Sunday the proper infrastructure needs to be in place and the traders have to support the proposal.

On the wider front it has now been announced that I will be standing down as Chief Executive and NABMA is looking for a replacement. When the changeover happens will depend on who comes forward as a potential new Chief Executive and when that person is available but it is hoped that everything can be sorted out in the next few months. In the meantime, for better or worse, you still have me writing this monthly article.