Market Forces…

Dominic Coyte (a cheese monger (Ed: No, really!)) of nearly twenty years who co-owns the Borough Cheese Company has a beef with the administration of the market:

In recent years Borough Market in Southwark, London, has not always been attracting the right sort of press. Wrangles over leaseholds, rent increases and a climate of fear among traders have all had an airing in the national media.

A ‘climate of fear’..?

More recently still, seven long-term traders, myself included, were told they could no longer trade at the market. But what exactly had been our crime?

Well, indeed! Something unmentionable with vegetables? Do tell…

About four years ago Monmouth Coffee shop – one of the leading retailers at Borough Market – relocated their coffee roasting to a railway arch in Bermondsey. Around the same time Neal’s Yard Dairy took on some railway arches close by to mature and ripen cheese. Before long, BM traders such as ourselves – The Borough Cheese Company – began to rent railway arches in the vicinity. The attraction of these spaces depended on the business. But they had obvious advantages. They were large, uncluttered spaces, easily accessible for deliveries and they were cool (temperature-wise, not in their demeanour).

OK, you formed a little ‘breakaway group’. What’s wrong with that?

The first I knew that something serious might be up was on the day before the royal wedding. I received an email with an attached article from a publication called the Fine Food Digest. Although the article itself was benignly well-balanced the headline proclaimed “Market rivals give Borough food for thought”. The implication was clear: those of us who had relocated to the Maltby Street area did so in direct competition to BM.

Ah. Well, indeed, you can’t expect to set up a little ‘rival’ business and not get some flack for it, can you? Still, healthy competition is to be expected.

Visiting Glenis Reagon, the market’s managing director, I assured her that the reasons for being in Maltby Street were for storage and production (I had made three 10kg Cheshire cheeses); further, Maltby Street was not a market; we were not out to court the press at the expense of BM. Reagon made it clear that anyone criticising BM while benefiting from its trade was being disloyal. I agreed, but maintained that nobody from Maltby Street was guilty of this.

It seems she wasn’t too convinced…

The next evening Topolski (a Polish sausage stall) had been told to cease trading at BM. By the following Tuesday we became the seventh trader to be evicted. All of us had been issued our marching orders over the phone by Reagon. None of us has had anything in writing.

We are now told that because we trade too close to the BM we undermine the market’s “uniqueness” in the locality.

Which is understandably a selling point for the Borough Market itself.

What the last month has taught me is how precarious life as a market trader can be. It’s probably fair to say most markets in this country are run by the council. Traders will operate under licence and depending on the terms of that licence will have rights to sell a specified commodity on particular days, at a particular pitch site. Borough Market is different. For a start the land is held in trust, so, in effect, is private. The Borough Market determines the status under which traders operate.

For casual traders like us, there are no contracts or licenses, merely a signature agreeing to obey the market bylaws. But what has been most striking over recent years is the increasingly aggressive style of management and a bemusing inclination to corporate-speak (traders at Borough Market are spoken of as belonging to the Borough Market “family”). Decisions are made without due consultation. Action is taken uncoupled from rationale. In short, management is perceived as increasingly autocratic and remote.

Hmmm, Mr Coyte seems to think such things will be unheard of at a council-run market. Really?

Vraaak in comments has the best response to trhis, though:

” Sad times when the infantile language of managerialism infects the management of a market. makes you wonder if market traders will start using it. I hope not.

Passionate about plums, get your lovely plums going forward!”

Fresh beef! Engage with steakholders!”

There you go love, These apples are fresh from Norfolk this morning, and they share my core values“….”

Yes, that would indeed be a crime…

So what now? The traders still there that I’ve spoken to are as mystified as the ones that have been evicted. More than that, some are seeing a drop-off in trade. One trader told me that early on Saturday morning, when he’d expect to get the big shoppers getting their groceries for the week, takings were down 50%. Others have spoken of the life sucked out of the Jubilee Market (that part of the market where most of us were). All in all, the loss of seven experienced traders is not readily replaced.

Well, if that’s really the case, the people will go elsewhere and the market will suffer. Other markets will grow up to replace it.

What are you worried about, Mr Coyte? Surely you trust to market forces?

5 comments for “Market Forces…

  1. July 4, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Finally the Monty Python Cheese Shop sketch will become a reality. Shame there doesn’t seem to be a cheese called Coyte so the Wensleydale gag won’t work, but you can’t have everything.

  2. John
    July 4, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Let’s face it business is hard enough, but if you really want to fuck something up just put the Council in charge of it.

    They train them ‘specially you know. Selected with care from all those kids who never really made it at school.

  3. Matt
    July 4, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    Yes John. Why not read the article where it specifically says it is nothing to do with the Council. Jeeeees

    • July 5, 2011 at 5:38 am

      I think he was referring to Mr Coyte’s insinuation that other markets (run by councils) would somehow be better… 😉

  4. July 5, 2011 at 6:54 am

    What are you worried about, Mr Coyte? Surely you trust to market forces?

    He trusts to market forces but not to interference to constrain trade in order to get someone out who is a rival, only for new rivals to come in who will then be forded out. What is a free market?

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