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'External Operator' Plan to Boost Town's Market

COUNCILLORS are to consider proposals to seek an external operator to run Newcastle’s historic town centre market.

A report advises Cabinet members that the market ‘is not performing as well as the Council might have hoped’, despite a recent refurbishment project which helped to boost stall occupancy and income.

Outsourcing management and operation of the market would ensure greater flexibility to promote the market and bring in new customers and traders, at a time when competing demands and priorities are being placed on Council resources.

In other parts of the country, declining markets have been revitalised by bringing in new operators – and it is anticipated that a similar scheme would benefit the existing market traders in the town centre.

Without decisive action, Council officers fear there is a serious risk of Newcastle Market falling into ‘a long-term trend of decline’, with ‘a detrimental effect on the town centre as a shopping destination and damage the economic performance of the centre as a whole’.

Cllr. John Williams, Cabinet member for town centres, property and business, said: “Newcastle has always been a market town, but unfortunately we are now experiencing the sort of challenges facing all market trading generally throughout the rest of the country.

“Action needs to be taken now to give Newcastle Market a shot in the arm and help to safeguard its future – but this is a time when there is more pressure than ever on the Council’s limited funding and resources.

“Bringing in an external operator, however, would provide specialist expertise that could focus 100 percent on promoting and revitalising the market, as well as reducing the Council’s own financial liabilities.”

Letters have been sent out to all Newcastle Market stallholders advising them of the Council’s proposals, which will be discussed by Cabinet members at their meeting on Wednesday 22 March; they are being recommended to authorise officers to begin a tendering process to find a suitable external operator.

A report from the Council’s Economic Development & Enterprise Scrutiny Committee is also being prepared and will be taken into account when developing the outcome-based specification.