Back in the first pandemic lockdown of 2020, Bristol City Council decided that for the small traders in and around St. Nick’s Market, “all fees would be payable” – despite the fact that they would be unable to generate any income for almost another year.
The fees included not only rent, but also electricity charges, cleaning and maintenance of toilet areas etc, despite the fact that for the period the Markets were locked and empty 24/7. As is often the case, it is difficult to track down exactly who was responsible for this divine proclamation from on high, but the familiar names of current/former BCC career bureaucrats like Mike Jackson, Stephen Peacock, Jacqui Jensen and old friend of The BRISTOLIAN, Richard Fear, cropped up in our investigation.
An appeal was launched and apparently a trader meeting was held with some of these individuals in December 2020, but no progress was made – the fees were still “payable” and that was that. Fear was presented with evidence that many other English councils were supporting traders and not charging them for the space – in fact the vast majority – but for Fear, Bristol was resolutely determined to join the minority of refusing/indifferent councils in a “Lockdown Hall of Shame”.
Under pressure, he conceded he would consult with other “core cities” and give traders a concluding reply by January 2021, but nothing was received. Tucking this achievement into his glorious record, Fear next waltzed off from BCC in April ‘21 into some other high-paying bullshit management job somewhere else.
Our story in BRISTOLIAN 50 about the council’s ODD ACCOUNTING and WEIRD PROPOSALS for rent hikes at St Nicholas Market created a flurry of activity suggesting that old habits are dying hard when it comes to management of our historic market.
A number of sources tell us that the market’s ‘Food Coordinator’, Lorna Knapman, described as a friend of the current interim market manager, was appointed WITHOUT ANY FORMAL RECRUITMENT PROCESS. Moreover, it seems, Ms Knapman, who has worked at the market for some years, was NOT ON THE COUNCIL PAYROLL for much of this time and instead collected her salary through a tax-efficient private company, claiming she was a contractor for the council.
This cosy tax-dodging arrangement was almost certainly CONTRARY to all known council HR policy and it’s unlikely that the council has met its obligations under so-called ‘IR35’ tax legislation by paying what is almost certainly an employee in this fashion. To add insult to injury, we’re informed that the markets coordinated by Ms Knapman “ARE DYING A DEATH“.
There’s “often only one trader for the ‘Award Winning Vegan Market’ on a Monday and traders are RAPIDLY DESERTING the popular Farmers Market,” we’re told. Meanwhile, Ms Knapman appears to have personal control of all the market’s social media accounts, which she uses to SOLELY promote her street food markets, ignoring any traders in the main market.
Presumably because they don’t matter to market bosses who have other plans for their stalls?
This month’s Bristol City Council entry for ‘BRITAIN’S WORST LOCAL AUTHORITY CONSULTANTS’ REPORT’ comes courtesy of Nabma Market Place’s (NMP) report into St Nicholas Market. Accuracy, it seems, is not NMP’s strong point while making proposals that could WRECK LIVELIHOODS. “Within St. Nicholas market,” we’re told authoritatively, “there are three individual segments. Each area has 50 trading units.”
Er, except, later in the report, every stall in every segment is identified “in chronological [sic] order”, with each business and its rental charge identified with NO REGARD FOR PRIVACY, and the total is 49 stalls. Is the market two-thirds unoccupied? No – “STALL OCCUPANCY RATES ARE NEAR 100%” – we’re told. This is an error of some magnitude then. An error that gets repeated. “The Glass Arcade offers 50 UNITS principally for the sale of fast food,” we’re unreliably informed, making any attempt to excuse the inability of these consultants to count as a typo or a transcription error tricky.
NMP are similarly CONFUSED ABOUT FINANCES. “Annual income generated from the markets and docks estate services through market and concession licence fees, event, promotional and filming site fees is £750,000,” we’re told. Then we’re assured, “the Council currently generates a surplus of approximately £315,000 pa.”
However, finance information in the report suggests that this claim is BOLLOCKS. Gross yearly rent recorded for St Nicks is £115k. While, even, if we accept that every street market stall on Corn Street is occupied on every market day for the maximum charge of £37 then that would earn around £200k. Making turnover about £325K A YEAR. A figure suspiciously close to £315k. Do the council and their consultants know the difference between TURNOVER and SURPLUS? And where did they find their £750k turnover figure?
The problem here is that this flawed report proposes MAJOR CHANGES. One proposal is to RAISE RENTS. We’re told, “there are many inconsistencies in the rental structure. Such anomalies are historic and are a result of several years rent negotiations with individual traders.”
Swiftly glossing over these odd “negotiations” between council bosses and individuals over lawful charges, NMP propose to “resolve inconsistencies in the rental structure” with, er, an INCONSISTENT RENTAL STRUCTURE! They propose: Exchange and Covered market rents remain UNCHANGED; café rents remain UNCHANGED; Glass Arcade rents increase to “A REALISTIC COMMERCIAL VALUE“; a SEPARATE RATE is introduced for fast food traders; rents at Market Gate remain UNCHANGED; trader Spice Up Your Life’s rent is INCREASED.
What’s consistent about this? Especially when the report says, “in reviewing the Exchange and Covered market rents there is no consistency in the fees and charges”. An INCONSISTENCY that, apparently, can remain.
NMP’s second proposal is the real BOMBSHELL for traders, however: “Without doubt the popularity of food and Bristol City would greatly benefit from having a really high quality food hall. Such a facility, located in the Exchange, would provide a unique facility to the City, enhance the market area and complement market activity in St. Nicholas Market. A food hall … would be a fabulous asset to the City. The market would become the central hub for high end food.”
Look out! They’re gonna gentrify our market using a hookie report.