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> The Case Against the Charter Market
Simon Kirby
post Mar 21 2013, 12:20 PM
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As we'll be having an election for the town council in a few weeks time I thought we might have a bit of a delve into what the town council does, and how efficiently it does it. It's been my complaint that our town councillors don't scrutinise the council's services - neither the Lib Dems nor the Tories - and that the council runs itself for its own benefit. That's bad for local democracy, and acutely bad if you get on the wrong side of the council, but it also makes for poor public services and high taxes. There's a list of costed services here.

So today the spotlight falls on the Charter Market service.


The Charter Market is run by the town council at an annual net loss of £51,476. The independent market stalls pay rent for their pitch and sell a variety of stuff, most of which is also available locally. Several decades ago market day would have been a busy shopping day but supermarkets made the traditional market obsolete. Successful town markets have reinvented themselves as speciality markets, but under the town council's unimaginative management the Newbury Charter Market has declined and is now all but moribund. The number of stalls and variety of goods declines every year, and with each departure the market becomes less appealing still.

If the Charter Market were a commercial business it would have ceased trading a decade ago when it became financially unsustainable, but the town council choose to run it at a loss in order to protect council jobs and prestige.

The market generates a revenue of £30k from the stall holders, which is only a third of the revenue the market made ten years ago, but the running costs are £36k, and then there is council staff costs of £21k on top of that, and a further burden of £27k of administrative overheads.

The running costs are £6,000 for the management contract (an increase of 11% on last year), £1,852 to lease the market facilities (whatever facilities they are), £7,700 rates, £1,200 for electricity, £5,000 for repairs and maintenance, £9,000 for a slush fund to underwrite the new self-sweeping arrangement, £330 for a trade body subscription, £5,000 to promote the market (£3,000 more than last year), and £130 for security.

As with all of the council services, the staff costs are inexplicably high. The market operates twice a week and the market management is contracted to Town and Country Caterers (I don't know who they are, I can't find a company registered with that name at Companies House), so there is very little for the council staff to do, but yet they spend enough on staffing to employ a full-time local government officer.

So this is £51,476 of precept-payer's money spent on a non-service. The market is just somewhere to buy general stuff, and all the stuff is available elsewhere - at shops that aren't receiving a town-council subsidy. It might well be nice to have a market, just like it might be nice to have a range of any shops, and if the market could be financially sustainable run by a commercial organisation then we should let someone have a go right away, but there is absolutely no justification for spending £51k on a service that benefits no one but the council staff who provide it. This is local government parasitism at it's absolute worse.


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Simon Kirby
post Mar 21 2013, 12:51 PM
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It's not often I agree with Newbury Town Council, but this news release from Vickers, Csala, McGarvey, and Day from a couple of years ago is spot-on:
"Newbury Market, Use it or Lose it".

Lose it then - you did promise.


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Andy Capp
post Mar 21 2013, 01:02 PM
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It might be useful to explain how much the costs is on the annual council tax bill? Perhaps show a running total of the cost to the tax payer of the council's services too? I would imagine some people may or may not be surprised at the cost.

I would have also thought that if the administrative overhead could be brought down, then the rent could be proportionately dropped, therefore maybe encouraging more diverse stalls? But as you have already hinted, we have become conditioned by supermarkets to expect certain prices that 'fresh produce' providers are unable to compete with - 'so back to the horse meat it is then'.
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badmummajamma
post Mar 21 2013, 01:33 PM
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I have to say that I agree with SK on most things and wholeheartedly agree with the previous topic about Civic Duties (get rid of all of them and finance the historic/customs preservation through charitable donations if necessary), but I have to disagree to some extent about the loss of the market.

There are two separate issues here - The need/desire for a market and the cost of providing that market - and I don't think they can be lumped together.

The root of the problem is, much like civic duties, the sheer cost of the red tape the market has become wrapped up in. Take the town council out of the equation and let the market self manage (Blasphemy), and it wont have any choice but to be profitable.

I also agree that it needs more imaginative management - particularly in respect of encouraging enterprising young stall-holders/craftsmen to open stalls on a short-term basis through financial incentives. Not that I've tried, but I imagine the market to be quite insular and off-putting to those who fancy "having a go" at setting up a table to sell their pies on a Saturday morning.

While I would agree that there are some rubbish stalls, there are some good ones and it just feels as though it needs a bit more critical mass to get going. I also think it's in the wrong place, but that's a whole other debate.
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Ron
post Mar 21 2013, 02:11 PM
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I just get the impression that this is all a which hunt because someone has been upset by the council. If you are that much against what's going on then get in there and sort it!!
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user23
post Mar 21 2013, 02:28 PM
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QUOTE (Ron @ Mar 21 2013, 02:11 PM) *
I just get the impression that this is all a which hunt because someone has been upset by the council. If you are that much against what's going on then get in there and sort it!!

There's an election soon so he'll have the chance to.
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On the edge
post Mar 21 2013, 02:43 PM
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QUOTE (Ron @ Mar 21 2013, 02:11 PM) *
I just get the impression that this is all a which hunt because someone has been upset by the council. If you are that much against what's going on then get in there and sort it!!



Even if that's the case, given our present dire economic state, and both main parties in West Berkshire say it is, this should be under very close scrutiny anyway. The 'upset' is that those elected on broad manifestos to enhance efficiency and secure economies are manifestly failing to do that. So its a matter of holding those we elect to account; just as we should with anyone else we have working for us.

Very few of us deliberately waste money, why should we let those we elect?

Over the years, all major reform has been driven by people abused by the system. Your laissez-faire argument would have us still sending boys up chimneys.


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On the edge
post Mar 21 2013, 02:53 PM
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Lets finish it.

Yes, its quaint and old fashioned, but no longer fits how we live today. Remember, this is market forces for real; if there was a demand, stall holders would be fighting for a pitch. They aren't; end of story!

The council and its officers have tried to drum up support, but it hasn't worked. The money spent subsidising this clearly failing private enterprise would be much better spent making good the cuts to mental health and old people's services. I do know that these are WBC responsibilities, but the cash take is from one source.

So, apply rule one in the law of dead horses; if you find yourself on one, jump off.



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Biker1
post Mar 21 2013, 03:01 PM
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QUOTE (user23 @ Mar 21 2013, 04:28 PM) *
There's an election soon so he'll have the chance to.

I'm afraid the election will sort nothing.
The waste will continue no matter who is voted in.
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Andy Capp
post Mar 21 2013, 04:15 PM
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QUOTE (user23 @ Mar 21 2013, 02:28 PM) *
There's an election soon so he'll have the chance to.

Even if he entered and won, he would have no power to make any change.
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badmummajamma
post Mar 21 2013, 04:20 PM
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He'd have my vote.
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user23
post Mar 21 2013, 04:31 PM
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QUOTE (Andy Capp @ Mar 21 2013, 04:15 PM) *
Even if he entered and won, he would have no power to make any change.
What a defeatist attitude.
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Biker1
post Mar 21 2013, 04:56 PM
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QUOTE (user23 @ Mar 21 2013, 06:31 PM) *
What a defeatist attitude.

But true! sad.gif
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Cognosco
post Mar 21 2013, 04:58 PM
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QUOTE (Andy Capp @ Mar 21 2013, 04:15 PM) *
Even if he entered and won, he would have no power to make any change.


Quite right Andy unless we can field several more like minded bodies the same as Simon then it is a waste of time.
Although we are supposed to be a democracy then the old guard are kept in place through apathy - the reason being nothing changes so no point in voting. The minority rule through being elected by a minority? unsure.gif


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Andy Capp
post Mar 21 2013, 05:06 PM
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QUOTE (user23 @ Mar 21 2013, 04:31 PM) *
What a defeatist attitude.

It as a fact.
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Simon Kirby
post Mar 21 2013, 05:07 PM
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QUOTE (Andy Capp @ Mar 21 2013, 04:15 PM) *
Even if he entered and won, he would have no power to make any change.

I might see if I can stand in Wash Common next time round, but I'm supporting David Yates and Charlie Farrow for the by-election. That's not to suggest that they agree with me, but they're independent from the Con-Dem establishment and they both have minds of their own. What you say is very true, unless you have the support of other councillors you can't even get something on the agenda to give it a public airing, so my route-one approach won't work inside the council and it will take people with a bit more subtlety than me as councillors, but I still hope I can influence the debate from outside the tent.


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user23
post Mar 21 2013, 05:32 PM
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QUOTE (Andy Capp @ Mar 21 2013, 05:06 PM) *
It as a fact.
Only if you believe it to be true.
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blackdog
post Mar 21 2013, 05:37 PM
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QUOTE (Andy Capp @ Mar 21 2013, 04:15 PM) *
Even if he entered and won, he would have no power to make any change.

One independent on NTC would have the casting vote whenever the two main parties disagreed - which may not be often, but would give an independent an unusual amount of power at present.
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Exhausted
post Mar 21 2013, 05:54 PM
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QUOTE (blackdog @ Mar 21 2013, 05:37 PM) *
One independent on NTC would have the casting vote whenever the two main parties disagreed - which may not be often, but would give an independent an unusual amount of power at present.


That of course makes it an important election issue.
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John C
post Mar 21 2013, 07:05 PM
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NTC have been trying to kill the market for years and nearly managed it when the resurfaced the market place with the so called cafe/bistro area to save having a vastly empty pedestrian area that can not be used for parking any more as its in a pedestrian area but does the Charter market only makes a loss on the say so of the been counters at NTC in that any administrator can put so many hours allegedly to charter market work when they are not necessarily doing charter market work
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