While all the focus in recent times has been on financial markets and bailing them out, at City Hall on the 23rd of October I chaired a meeting of the London Markets Symposium, looking at the future for London’s street and wholesale markets. We had over 200 attendees and the newly appointed Chair of London Food, Rosie Boycott, on the platform, stimulating a very thorough discussion of the issues.
Rosie Boycott kicked off the morning with the keynote speech, giving us plenty of “food for thought” at the start of her reign as the Chair of London Food. The next speaker, Krys Zasada, gave us the national market perspective, suggesting there was a lack of leadership and not enough market champions. Mike McGill illustrated how Islington was regenerating its streets through its markets. Mike Brook from Wandsworth then gave us some market fundamentals and even some historical references to Adam Smith. And finally we had a stallholder’s perspective from Gary Marshall of the Covent Garden Tenants Association, bringing us back down to earth in our discussions by embracing markets with a direct “touching, smelling and bartering” relationship with their customers.
All this prompted many questions from the floor, ranging from security concerns and the issue of deregulation of street markets to whether we could have a London-wide street license permit system for stallholders.
It all highlighted the vital role our markets play in the provision of London’s food, with an ever increasing and more diverse population. Indeed these markets have a significant role in relation to health, the environment and sustainability issues and are an economically and socially important part of London’s culture.
While the financial markets are understandably the centre of attention, we should not neglect our actual street markets which are often the hub of our urban communities. The re-launching of the Association of London Markets (AOLM) at the meeting will hopefully go some way to raise the profile of this often neglected but genuine retail choice. With our supermarket chains engaged in price wars over the credit crunch, wholesale and street markets may well come into their own during this uncertain time.