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St John’s Market traders back at “war” with Liverpool Council

A feud between Liverpool Council and St John's Market traders has reignited after a cabinet report revealed rent and service charges could soon be implemented.

If the council cabinet vote in favor of proposals, traders will begin to pay fees from January 21 — including backdated rent from September last year.

 

Stallholders were previously offered free rent after a council-backed revamp of the market failed back in 2017.

 

However, the council says they can no longer sustain the costs of £1m per year.

 

Last August, following the first national lockdown, the council sent a letter asking traders to agree to pay full rent or risk losing their stalls.

 

It led to a series of protests and, on its 813th birthday, the market finally reopened after an agreement was made that traders would contribute a fair rent.

 

"We are weaker when we are not altogether in the market talking and that’s what they have played on all over again. It’s beyond disgusting."

 

Stallholders had sent a letter to the council during this time offering to pay 75% of the fees.

 

But the letter was never responded to, says one trader.

 

Colin Laphan, whose family has served customers at the market for over a century, told Scottie Press that traders have not heard from the council since a meeting before Christmas.

 

He revealed traders only learned of the recent proposals after a Liverpool Echo article was published last week, adding that the cabinet report was not in line with what had been discussed on December 22.

 

Laphan also chairs St John’s Market Traders Association, who got in touch with the council to find out when a January meeting would be going ahead.

Traders protest at Clayton Square last August.Image by Lewis Jennings

 

Cllr Sharon Connor, who oversees Liverpool’s markets, responded yesterday and asked for their availability to meet.

 

They were later informed that the council wanted to meet with all traders, rather than just the committee, via a Zoom meeting tomorrow at noon (January 14) — a day before the cabinet will vote on proposals.

 

The committee requested the meeting not to go ahead under these circumstances.

 

Laphan was then “blown away” when, at around 6 pm, the council ignored the requests and went ahead and invited traders to the Zoom meeting.

 

“The only thing I expected from the council was some level of support and some sensible discussions on how we take this forward,” said Laphan.

 

“By doing this Zoom meeting tomorrow, against our explicit wishes, is an attempt to go to war again. We have offered to pay. It might not be 100% but then they aren’t providing 100% of the services.”

 

Cllr Connor, a council cabinet member, claims that the proposals will guarantee the future of the market.

 

She also said she was “working with traders on a whole host of fantastic ideas and initiatives,” but Laphan says this isn’t true.

 

“There is no plan that the market manager is aware of,” he said.

Protests at Clayton Square last August.Image by Lewis Jennings

 

“For three years, none of the traders have known from one day to the next what they will be doing in three weeks’ time because the council has never given us any certainty or surety.”

 

“Everyone’s supposedly bothered about everyone’s stress levels and mentality at the moment, well obviously the traders have got enough to worry about, just putting food on the table during lockdown.

 

“Are we going to lose our jobs tomorrow? That’s always in the back of our minds. And now we have Covid-19, it’s a whole new different world.”

 

Laphan pointed out that the market has already lost two beloved stallholders; Ken Kayani and John Foley, who both passed away as a result of coronavirus.

 

“Larger than life” Foley was at the forefront of protests last summer.

 

“We lost Ken and his wife and then obviously the passion of John, that’s all left us with grief interwoven with the anxiety of having to work every day in the market — which is the frontline — and potentially catching Covid-19.

 

“I’ve never known a more stressful situation and now they have thrown this into the mix.”

 

Laphan believes the council is using lockdown as another opportunity to “attack” traders.

 

“We are weaker when we are not altogether in the market talking and that’s what they have played on all over again,” he said. “It’s beyond disgusting.”

 

Liverpool Liberal Democrat leader Richard Kemp has urged the council to speak to traders.

 

He said: “To start introducing a rent and service charge when 95% of the market is being closed due to lockdown is an incredibly stupid thing to do. How the traders will pay these with no income is beyond me.”

 

“More importantly in the long term, even when the situation returns to normal, the rents and service charge will be too high for the likely takings in the market.

 

Kemp suggested the council is seeking another use of the market and should be more clear about what its long-term intentions are.

 

Scottie Press has reached out to Cllr Sharon Connor.

Protests at Clayton Square last August.Image by Lewis Jennings