Markets group attempts to save manager

Morpeth Markets Advisory Group chairman Nic Best (right) with Morpeth markets manager Neil Brown. Picture by Jane Coltman.
Morpeth Markets Advisory Group chairman Nic Best (right) with Morpeth markets manager Neil Brown. Picture by Jane Coltman.

A cost-cutting proposal that would result in the removal of Morpeth’s market manager is likely to have harmful consequences on stall numbers, it has been claimed.

Northumberland County Council has set out its plans for savings within the local services group, which will amount to £10million over the next two years.

They include integrating the day-to-day supervision, operational and administrative support arrangements for markets into the neighbourhood services teams and depot administration.

If it comes into effect, the posts of countywide market manager (which is currently vacant) and three market officers – including Neil Brown at Morpeth – would no longer be in place.

The responsibility for the booking of stall holders would be managed through the neighbourhood services administration staff and senior team leaders for each area.

The Markets Advisory Group is a stakeholder sounding board for the Morpeth Markets Partnership, which includes the town council, Chamber of Trade and Sanderson Arcade.

It believes that the proposal will be counter-productive.

Its response says: ‘We have grave concerns that the Morpeth markets will suffer without a dedicated markets manager and argue that the expected marginal savings will be further reduced by trader losses and reduction in the market size.

‘The statistics for the Wednesday Market and Farmers’ Market over recent years show that there is up to a six trader difference between when there is a dedicated market manager and when there is not one in place.

‘We gather that the expected savings in making the Morpeth market manager position redundant will be £5,000 to £6,000.

‘Against this, the loss of traders at current rent levels would result in rent revenue losses of about £1,000 per annum per trader from the Wednesday Market and about £300 per trader from the Farmers’ Market.

‘We would argue that cutting the post of market manager has been tried before – it results in a reduction in the number of traders and hence revenue, a loss of trader morale and a general decline in the market.

‘We have no alternative recommendations for making savings, and a slight concern that any such suggestions would be taken forward as additional rather than replacement savings.’

Mr Brown started his current role in 2012 and the group added that since the Morpeth markets relaunch event in October 2013, which included the installation of a number of anchor points, the Wednesday Market has developed a waiting list for the first time in two decades.

It also endorses the town council’s request that if the redundancy proposal goes ahead, the county council indicates who will be taking responsibility for the active management functions identified in the partnership report and that trader numbers and morale are monitored and reported.

The deadline for responses to the potential changes was April 13.

A spokeswoman for the county authority said: “We are currently considering all of the feedback we have received on the proposed changes to the arrangements for the management and supervision of markets.

“No decision has been taken yet on this matter, but it is envisaged that the process will be concluded within the next couple of weeks.

“We will then advise staff and other key stakeholders of the outcome and the timetable for implementation of any changes.”