The release of the Feasibility Report from the Steering Group for Todmorden market has stirred me to write.
It seems that at some point in the near future a vital decision regarding the future of our town will have to be made. If the report is to be believed the status quo cannot be maintained. No action will result in the eventual failure of our markets.
All the five options: keep things as they are, run by Calderdale Council; a traders’ buyout; sale to a private company; asset transfer to a community trust; or a transfer to a partnership arrangement, seem to have negatives and positives.
In option 1, the report seems to infer that likely investment from Calderdale Council will not be sufficient to secure its future, though stating that it did not take into account current operating costs or operating profits, which does seem to be a vital missing factor in presenting any of the cases. Assuming a lack of profitability and a lack of funding would rule out Option 1.
What if the market is actually in profit? Then the direction of the entire debate should be one at rallying for Calderdale to put some money into the market’s infrastructure instead of change for change’s sake.
Option 2 infers that a traders buyout seems idealistic and frought with difficulties. It is true that the traders probably have enough to do without having to both run and maintain the market. The big plus would be that traders would reap the rewards. Failure though would be devastating. A difficult option to make successful.
A private buyout may well be the simplest option to achieve but is almost certainly one of the least attractive, certainly to me. Once sold all control of the market is out of our hands. For some, private ownership would bring competition and investment, for others they would see it as a potential for asset stripping and profiteering. Any private commercial company will only invest to reap the rewards. If the rewards fail to arrive, further sales of the assets would ensue.
Reading through the report, the fourth option appears to be the preferred option of the Steering Group.
On the face of it this seems to be a good option, a caring local Community Trust taking over the market with a valid interest for keeping it alive beyond that of simply making money. There is though one paragraph that rings a warning bell: “There are, however, risks associated with this option that would only be overcome by dynamic and visionary leadership. Apathy, disagreement on a strategic plan, resistance from stakeholders unwilling to change and political tensions could result in the Trust’s inability to attract available funding.”
Does this actually mean that the people who would run the trust not only know best but are dynamic, even visionary, and that everyone will have to follow their lead and do what they decide is for the best and if they fail it will not be their fault but everyone else’s for not committing to the ‘dream’ enough? There certainly seems to be a touch of arrogance.
I do have a question here - would the Community Trust in question be Incredible Edible and/or its component members? And would IE then be in a position to dictate what is traded on the market? Generally, I think IE have been beneficial to our town but I am not sure that we would want any single body with an agenda to have absolute control over the markets and what traders sell.
The final option seems to offer a similar situation but with a wider range of opinions and controls due to the trust being made up of a greater number of interested parties. The report seems to slate this option, signalling it is not likely to work because there will be conflict and a lack of direction which will result in the loss of investment opportunities and thus preventing change for the better. It implies that option 5 needs to be run like option 4 to work with one group with absolute power!
The report clearly favours Option 4 over all other options, indeed I feel it is almost railroading the town down this avenue.
To me this seems to hand control of our market to a single entity without recourse to debate once the reins are held. The market’s survival does need to be ensured somehow but is this survival to be at all costs. For what it is worth my preference would be for a council (preferably Todmorden rather than Calderdale) to run the market with increased funding to enable it to be secure into the future.
There may be ways that the market could be set up as some form of charitable trust whilst the ownership remains with the council. This could free the strictures preventing some funding applications that exsist at the moment.
I certainly would not wish the markets to fall outside of public control in to the hands of private investors of any creed.
The whole report leaves me feeling very worried for the future of our wonderful market. The market is the lifeblood of our town, its loss would destroy the remaining shops’ and cafes’ incomes within the town.
Some difficult choices await. I truly hope the correct course of action will be taken.