NMTF renews appeal to Government and local councils to help safeguard traders' livelihoods

THE NMTF has again urged both Government and local councils to consider the plight of traders whose livelihoods have been threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In emails to Businesses Secretary Alok Sharma, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick and the chief executives and leaders of local authorities, NMTF CEO Joe Harrison has highlighted three serious issues relating to the response to the coronavirus.

(1) Local Government Discretionary Grant Fund in England

Joe said he had welcomed the inclusion by central government of market traders as a priority group to access this fund.

“Sadly, most are unable to access it.” he told the ministers. “Guidance issued to local government focused attention on those market traders with ‘fixed building costs’.

“But 60 per cent of market traders who sell essential goods trade outdoors, as do all street traders, and 97 per cent of events traders have had events cancelled.

“It is an uneven playing field for those without non-domestic property.”

He said he recognised that local authorities had the discretion to tailor their schemes to meet local economic need. Local authorities to be applauded for supporting market and street traders included Cambridge City Council and West Suffolk Council.

“But most are following the guidance to the letter. Some are passing traders from pillar to post, unwilling to consider people who work in but do not reside in their authority (and vice versa, frustratingly).”

He said the NMTF had developed a set of observations to support local authorities to administer the fund with respect to market, street, and events traders.

“But we recognise most local authorities have finalised their schemes,” he told them.

“I ask that you support our call for local authorities to reserve a portion of this fund to provide grants to market, street, and events traders excluded from it as they run a business that is mobile.”

(2) Claiming back rent during lockdown

Joe said the NMTF had taken a clear position that rent should not be charged to traders who were unable to use their stall because the market was closed, or they were shielding or self-isolating.

“I made this plea to local government leaders in April and we welcomed news from our members that rent has been waived for 57 per cent of them. But for 30 per cent rent has continued to be charged as normal and 13 per cent have received a ‘payment holiday.’

“Now the market manager has come knocking to collect a debt.”

He said a common argument from those demanding payment was that if a trader was in receipt of any grant from central government, they must use this to pay their rent.

But he pointed out that 33 per cent of market traders had received no support from central government.

“Most markets in the UK are run by local authorities. So, to give with one hand to take with the other — morally, this cannot be right.”

He said he was writing again to local government leaders and “making the plea to do the right thing”.

“I ask that you support our call for this,” he appealed to the ministers.

“I recognise that local authorities are under considerable financial strain but filling council coffers with grants intended to secure the livelihoods of market traders is not the answer. We must consider our markets in terms of their value to local communities and not as income generators for local authorities.”

(3) Support to reopen and recover

He  said that at the time of writing outdoor and indoor markets were reopening for the sale of essential and non-essential goods in England and Northern Ireland. It was hoped that Wales and Scotland would soon follow suit and reopen markets by the end of June.

Just like shops on the high street, changes in how markets operate would need to take place to make them “Covid Secure”. Outdoor markets that had remained open for the sale of essential goods during lockdown had set an excellent standard, he said.

“The NMTF is encouraging our members to work proactively with market management to adapt markets for the ‘new normal’ and give our communities confidence that they can return to the high street.”

But Joe added that traders could not be expected to pay the same level of rent for possibly reduced days, hours, and footfall, alongside the additional costs of “Covid Secure” measures.

“I ask that you support our call for a national ‘Bounce Back’ scheme for markets. This should include a rent payment plan that is free at first, rising to an appropriate, adjusted amount over an agreed term that reflects trading conditions during this period of recovery.”