Council should axe plans to put the town's farmers' market out to tender, says Stroud MP
STROUD MP Neil Carmichael has called on the district council to scrap plans to put the town’s award winning farmers’ market out to tender.
Mr Carmichael’s intervention came as the current operator said he would consider walking away from the business if Stroud District Council pressed ahead with the controversial tender process.
Since announcing that interested parties would be invited to bid for the popular market, the authority has faced a fierce backlash, with stallholders and shopkeepers raising fears about its long-term viability and the future of the town centre.
More than 2,000 people have signed a petition demanding SDC abandon the tender process, while politicians of all persuasions, including members of the authority’s ruling rainbow administration and the town’s mayor, have voiced support for the current operator Made in Stroud Ltd.
Now, Stroud’s Tory MP Mr Carmichael has waded into the debate, insisting that the Labour-led district council should think again about its decision to run an open tender.
“I fully support the Stroud Farmer’s Market and those stallholders who have helped make it a success,” said the Conservative politician.
“The council needs to consider the wider economic and community contribution of Stroud Farmer’s Market, which is overwhelmingly positive.
“In light of the response shown by the petition, the council should be reconsidering the current proposals before formally putting the market out to tender.”
Meanwhile, Stroud Town Council has expressed disappointment that it was not consulted by SDC about plans to run a tender for the Cornhill-based market.
"The market is seen by our members as a major economic asset for Stroud, bringing benefits that extend well beyond the businesses that trade there," said town councillor and mayor Amanda Moriarty.
This week also saw the current operator of the market Gerb Gerbrands, who founded Made in Stroud Ltd with Clare Honeyfield back in 1999, break his silence.
Mr Gerbrands launched a lacerating attack on SDC, in which he accused the authority of trying to take over his business and said he would not be bidding for the contract in its present form.
In a statement released to the SNJ, he said: “How can I tender for something that is mine? How can it be legal for the council to put the premises that I use to run my business from up to the highest bidder? It is extraordinarily unethical. What about my rights?
“The detail of the tender shows also that the new licensee has to basically hand over all information about who, how, where and how much for every market. But this information is Made in Stroud Ltd’s information.
“It is the information and knowledge we have spent 14 years amassing, the information that makes the market what it is.
“In modern parlance; those are the intellectual property rights of Made in Stroud Ltd. The council requires all this information to be handed over.
He added: “I can’t bid for that. I can’t spend the next two years giving away all my skill, knowledge and data whilst paying a vast sum for it.”
Stallholders were due to meet with the chief executive of SDC David Hagg and a member of the authority’s asset management team to discuss their concerns yesterday (Tuesday).
Apple juice producer Helen Brent-Smith, who set-up the petition and requested the meeting, said: “We have got a series of questions which we want answered.
“We also want the whole thing stopped and we want to be able to get on and run our businesses in the busiest week of the year.
“The timing of this for small food businesses is breathtakingly insensitive. We want answers about how it could have been allowed to get to this point and why it’s been dealt with so badly.”
She added: “If they are saying they want more money there are other ways of going about it than possibly destroying one of the jewels in the crown of Stroud which is what they are risking at the moment.
“A good starting point would have been to call Made in Stroud in to discuss a rent increase.”
Conservative district councillor Debbie Young, who represents the Chalford ward, said SDC’s administration should have consulted more closely with members before opting for a tender process.
“Councillors were simply presented with a document prepared by officers about what was going to happen.
“The committee system was supposed to empower councillors to be more involved in making decisions such as these and this is an example where it has failed to occur and officers are making decisions without consulting democratically elected councillors.”
But the leader of Stroud District Council Geoff Wheeler has defended the authority’s decision to the put the contract to run the town’s farmers’ market out to tender.
Cllr Wheeler said SDC was expected to act in a ‘transparent’ way and that it was obliged to get the best value for taxpayers’ money.
He added that he would be visiting stallholders at the market in the coming weeks to discuss their concerns with them.
In a statement released to the press, Cllr Wheeler said: “It is quite untrue to say that the council is trying to close the market down or to remove the current managers.
“Stroud District Council has always been extremely supportive of the excellent market – and is wholly committed to seeing it continue to go from success to success.
“We have to go through a tender process, but the only way for anybody other than the current managers to win that tender is if they offer a service which is as good as, or better than, at present - which, let’s face it, is going to be hard for anyone else to do.”
He added: “Any council that lets such a large contract without carrying out a proper public tendering process lays itself open to attack over irresponsibility with public funds.
“The public has the right to hold local councils to account about the services they provide. We are spending tax payers’ money so we have to carry out our work openly.”
Cllr Wheeler also sought to highlight the costs of the farmers’ market currently borne by SDC.
He said: “The council rents Cornhill market for £40,000 a year. It pays £20,000 on top of that for rates, heating, light, power, cleaning and maintenance – and the farmers’ market is responsible for about £12,000 of those costs.
“The council provides the stalls and canopies, premises insurance and staff to deal with opening up and closing the market.
“The council has also waived the need for individual street trading consent fees for each stall holder too - so I do feel that the council has gone out of its way to support the work of the managers - and this must have contributed to the market’s success.”
However, Neil Carmichael, who met with stallholders at the market on Saturday, December 14, has started an online petition calling on SDC to reconsider its Invitation to Tender (ITT).
The petition can be signed at: www.petitions24.com/stroudfarmersmarket
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