Markets matter - the LEP fails them

By John Clancy on Mar 12, 13 12:43 PM in Economics

The decision which the City Council is now prepared to make to dismiss from the city centre some of its oldest business inhabitants, by moving the Wholesale Markets out of their current site to somewhere outside the city centre, is a momentous, colossal mistake.

The actual report has yet to be published. I have not been made privy to it. The press have been briefed on the basics, however. I can only now comment on those.

The knock-on effects on the retail markets will be catastrophic, which is why the two have been linked, and should be linked, in the debate. The vitality of these markets, wholesale and retail, are part of the business and community lifeblood of this city, a beating heart; and they are in deepest danger.

Momentous, because it indicates to me a fundamental disconnection in policy between the council's leadership (of any recent political colour) and where this city needs to develop. We are going backwards to a world which has already inflicted great damage to this city.

The future of the markets in the city centre was, in particular, an opportunity for this hapless government's LEP creation in the city to step up. It should have been its finest hour. It could have shown that it had courage and foresight and originality. Instead the LEP stands as the guarantor of the same-old, same-old: big business, big finance, mega-retail, big commercial property. And it demonstrates itself as being no friend to small, medium and micro- businesses. And you can't get much more micro business than a market stall.

It seems to me that the City Centre has erected a 'keep out' sign for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and microbusiness. This place is not for you or your customers.

Certainly we have crossed a dangerous line by kicking out from the city centre what to me is the epitome of the city's proud history. Another set of traders gone from the city to be replaced by different kinds of traders indeed - commerce and finance and property traders. You know - the ones that got us into the mess in the first place.

Now we have a brave new world of 'a city of a thousand trades': a thousand trades a minute mouse-clicked in the casino world of high finance, big commerce and mega-retail.

Commercial Property and its price, bubbled and burst in international, speculative markets seem to have ended up 'doing for' the small, real markets of this city. And where was the West Midlands Local Government pension scheme in all this?

The city's strapped for cash. Money from revenue and capital budgets are not sources which can now be relied upon long-term. I can accept the general argument that when it is having to pass on cuts which slash services across the city it must also slash services to some businesses, including the wholesale markets. I cannot accept the argument that to continue to find other ways of investing in this zone of the city centre was in some way subsidising business.

In any event, our whole economy for the last 5 years has been about subsidising business. In saving the banks we ended up not just with business subsidy, but 'big business welfare' - a welfare budget I would like to see cut.

Some kinds of businesses are clearly more deserving of state subsidy and support than others: the markets clearly aren't according to this proposal.

The LEP and the Enterprise zone should have had the vision to see the city's markets as key to the future and planned for massive investment in the quarter; to create a space and a place there where the city comes to meet around a thriving, exciting food and restaurant hub.

"Not our business," says the LEP and the council leadership. Too right. The wrong kind of business entirely.

But the council can willingly and blithely still authorise itself (on behalf of the government's LEP) to put the city council taxpayers at risk by borrowing on their behalf £125million to develop infrastructure and buildings in the heart of the city designed to bring forward massive buildings of commercial property consisting mainly of A1 office buildings. There is no guarantee of this scheme's likely success - it's a punt on commercial property and associated business and no more. Again.

This kind of development may yet find its way to where the markets are now.

Transplanted from the city centre, replaced by an anaemic, clone-commerce world, the city becomes heartless.

Markets matter.

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