Berwick Street market traders see off privatisation
Council has change of heart after pressure from stallholders and customers
24 March, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya
Stallholders give a thumbs up to the council’s u-turn
TRADERS are celebrating after a major u-turn means a 300-year-old market will not be privatised.
The surprise decision about Berwick Street market was announced on Tuesday just weeks before it was set to be taken over by a new operator. Traders have faced many months of uncertainty over their futures and a petition to keep the market independent had been signed by more than 37,000 people.
Soho Dairy trader Robin Smith said: “It’s a really good day for Berwick Street, and an even better day for London’s independent traders. We were a pilot, this was going to happen to everyone. I think it is a great day for independent traders. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet to be honest.”
Trader Simon Laing, who works at a Pitstop food stand, said: “It’s great news to be knowing our future in a developing Soho that is changing very rapidly. “It’s good to see that we are still able to carry on with our business. It is a delight to our customers as well, they have rallied behind us and petitioned with us.”
Westminster Council’s change of heart to keep Berwick Street market under its control was partly due to the reshuffle of cabinet members earlier this year. Markets moved under the remit of Robert Davis, who took on the role of cabinet member for business, culture and heritage. They were previously looked after by Cllr Daniel Astaire.
Cllr Davis said: “Since taking on my new portfolio in January I have been looking closely at many aspects of the council’s work that now fall under my remit, including the proposals for Berwick Street Market. In light of the ongoing community concerns, including the public petition submitted last year, and as a result of thorough discussions with officers and the ward councillors, I feel there is a need to halt the current tendering process for the management of the market and reflect further on alternative ways to improve the market.”
He added that his grandfather used to own a shop in the market in the 1960s and he had recalled visiting the “vibrant and popular market”. He said he wanted to improve the market in a way to “take all the local traders, residents and visitors with us”.
Mr Smith, who leads the Berwick Street Traders Society, felt the next step was “to secure the market and get people off of temporary licences on to permanent licences.”
But Patrick Lilley, from West End Labour action team, said: “These pointless plans to privatise the market have led to enormous stress and anxiety for market traders and their families. On top of that, it’s all been a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money. Indeed, that’s why the West End Labour team is demanding that the council tell us how much money they’ve spent.”
Conservative West End councillor Jonathan Glanz said that while options for an outside operator were explored “in good faith”, it was now accepted that it may be better to learn from those with direct experience of the market. And West End ward councillor Glenys Roberts added that she was “absolutely thrilled” that the market will remain independent.
“Privatisation was never going to work because cut three ways between the operator the council and the traders there would never have been enough profit for the traders to carry on,” she said. “I am so happy Cllr Davis recognised the market’s own value and now we will all work together to make it a great success.”