Stalling over market future

PUBLISHED: 12:43 20 July 2006 | UPDATED: 10:31 06 May 2010

THE future of Hitchin market hangs in the balance as discussions on it possibly changing from council to private control begin in earnest. Use of the market has fallen in recent years and Hitchin and Royston markets combined budget has a £50,850 shortfal

THE future of Hitchin market hangs in the balance as discussions on it possibly changing from council to private control begin in earnest.

Use of the market has fallen in recent years and Hitchin and Royston markets' combined budget has a £50,850 shortfall for this financial year.

North Hertfordshire District Council is considering outsourcing its operation to improve the vitality and economic turnover of the market.

Initial research by the council has identified six established market companies which could be approached.

But an application from Hitchin Town Centre Initiative has also not been ruled out.

Keith Hoskins, town centre manager, said: "I would imagine that if it were to go to private tender it would be something that we would be interested in ourselves. It would be nice to keep it in the community.

"It's very difficult to run something as local as Hitchin market if you are not locally involved. The more local we keep it the more sustainable it would be."

He added: "I almost think there is a case for markets to be run as a 'not for profit' organisation.

"If we ran it we would try to put any money back into the town - invest it either back into the wider town or into the market itself. That would be ideal rather than having a company that wants to make a profit."

The Hitchin Market Traders' Association presented a business plan to the council's cabinet in June, suggesting that charges at Hitchin market on a Tuesday and Saturday be reduced for a trial period of sixth months.

The council agreed to the proposal in a bid to turn around the falling trend of the market in recent years.

Ellie Clarke, Hitchin Forum secretary, said: "On the one hand they are showing support to the traders but then creating this uncertainty just seems perverse.

"Outsourcing may be a good thing in the long run but the timing of it is just appalling. No trader is going to come with that degree of uncertainty. Somebody can't have joined up thinking."

On Tuesday the council's scrutiny committee made three recommendations to cabinet meeting next Tuesday:

* The length of tender is set at five years with the possibility of a two year extension

* The option that the council continues to manage the site but with outside help from other organisations.

* Hitchin area committee is kept in touch with progress.


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