No Free Market in Cambridge

Cambridge Market.

Cambridge Market

At Cambridge City Council’s West / Central Area Committee on the 5th of January 2012 a member of the public, Edward Kerns, who claimed to be representing Christ’s Pieces Residents Association made a number of contributions related to Cambridge’s Market.

Firstly he passed on complaints from market stall-holders about the Made It Market held in the Guildhall on the 24th of November. His complaint, which he said was one raised by some market traders, was that the council was allowing competition, and that some market stalls were selling very similar items to those on sale inside the Guildhall during the event. The member of the public said that market stall holders expected, as part of their contract with the council, to have a monopoly in their particular area of trade, and were not happy at the council allowing competitors to operate. It was noted that on the day of the event the weather wasn’t very good, further encouraging trade inside and away from the outdoor market.

I was astonished by the response given by Cllr Cantrill. Cllr Cantrill confirmed the council ran a no-competition policy and stated there were “no competing traders in the market”. Observant Cllr Rosenstiel noted that there was often more than one fruit and veg stall on the Market; Cllr Cantrill didn’t respond to this but instead laughed.

I was surprised to learn that the council aim to control market stalls in this way. I would prefer there to be a free market and free, unregulated, competition.

Cllr Cantrill said that the council had probably hired out the hall to someone to run the inside market and wasn’t in-control of the individual stalls. He said that one part of the council probably wasn’t aware of what another part was doing and the member of the public agreed pointing out that was pretty much the problem he was raising.

The same member of the public asked for “an update on the Market Square enhancements”.

No councillors volunteered to respond and the chair offered to seek a written response from the executive councillor responsible. Cllr Hipkin said it was astonishing given the presence of ward councillors and the leader of the council that no-one present was able to reply to the question. In response the meeting decided to invite Executive Councillor Neil McGovern, the councillor responsible for markets, to their next meeting. I reported this live and Cllr McGovern responded: “@RTaylorUK news to me, but happy to attend!”.

Lastly on the subject of the market Mr Kerns complained that the Christmas lights switch on event had had a negative effect on the market as it had drawn crowds which disrupted the normal activity of the market from 10am on the day until the end of the event in the evening.

7 responses to “No Free Market in Cambridge”

  1. The Council’s Market Regulations say: “The Council will allocate product lines to vacant stalls as it considers best for the Market. The Council may accept product lines that compete with existing traders. The Council does, however, reserve the right to decline any application if it considers that any particular trade or line will be over-represented on the Market.”

  2. Thanks Phil, that’s very useful context.

    The policy doesn’t appear too bad; (though not as open as I’d prefer it).

    What was surprising was the view both from the public and apparently of some councillors that the council ought not have let out space in the Guildhall for an in-part competing market.

  3. Do you really want to see a completely free market here? If so I should think the most profitable use of this patch of land would be a Tesco or Sainsbury convenience store!

    • I don’t think that a completely free market would ever occur anyway – any trader who wishes to remain in business will count up how many others there are with the same offer and go somewhere else. All business works that way, which is why things like SWOT analysis is included in businesses plans.

    • What Gill describes is a free market in operation; traders decide for themselves when there’s too much competition and either change their offer or go elsewhere – there’s no need for the state (in this case Cambridge City Council) to step in to prevent competition; doing so disadvantages customers, and those who want to challenge established businesses.

  4. I am a lambda student, customer there and I think that competition (free market or open market) is good for customers because allow flexibility in the prices. Keep the sellers there is important but “no competing traders in the market” sounds for me quit strict.

    However it should stay a stall market because it give to Cambridge a real humanity and heart.

    (A European Student).

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