Councillors have refused to endorse a plan to outsource Derry’s flagship Hallowe’en and Christmas markets due to concerns over the impact this could have on local traders.
The plans were confirmed at this week’s meeting of Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Business & Culture Committee.
In a report on local markets, council’s Head of Business, Kevin O’Connor, said that the larger events, particularly the Hallowe’en market, took up a lot of resources and bringing in an outside firm would enable officers to concentrate on developing the monthly Walled City Market and regular Strabane markets.
He said that the popular Walled City Market in Guildhall Square had 26 permanent traders with a waiting list of others, and a three strikes policy in place for no shows. However, he said, it has been “quite challenging” to attract traders to the Strabane Market recently.
Traders pay £30 a month, which is reinvested in promoting the markets.
The Hallowe’en Market in Derry has grown from a three day event to seven days last year, while the Winter Wonderland Market ran over four days in 2018. “What we are proposing to do this year, because of the resource implications and the size of these markets, is to offer out an opportunity for suitably qualified individuals and groups to look at a successful tender who will be responsible for delivering a market trading offer, the selection of traders and the provision of the necessary resources,” Mr O’Connor said.
Sinn Fein Colr. Sandra Duffy welcomed the success of the Walled City Market, the buzz it creates and praised the good mix of traders, but added: “I do have a concern around the Christmas and Hallowe’en markets being put out to tender.” She said that if this happens local traders, who bring a lot to the market and get a lot out if it, could lose out. “Bigger companies coming in could price our traders out of the market and have their own list of traders. I wouldn’t support this as it stands unless conditions are put in protecting local traders.”
SDLP Colr. Sinead McLaughlin said she agreed. “I want more clarity around: does the tender protect our local traders in any way at all.”
DUP Alderman Graham Warke said local businesses had been supporting these markets since 2016 and he did not want to see them put in difficulty because of the tender.
People Before Profit Colr. Eamonn McCann said he too could not back the plan as it stands. “You can’t shut out outsiders but, nevertheless, when things go out to tender there may be traders across the water or Dublin who may be able to outbid local traders,” he said.
Independent Colr. Sean Carr said that when the All Ireland Fleadh came to Derry in 2013, the organisers took over the trading and ‘our own traders couldn’t get a look in.’
“That caused a lot of discontent and I would have serious concerns over us privatising our events.”
Mr O’Connor responded that the tender was “heavily weighted” towards protecting local traders and confirmed it would run for one year from August to September, with an appointment this year in early September, which Colr. Duffy said didn’t leave a lot of time for the Hallowe’en market.
Under questioning from Alderman Derek Hussey, it was confirmed that security at the events would still be run by council.
Committee Chair, SDLP Colr. Shauna Cusack said there seemed to be a general consensus that more assurances were needed ‘in black and white,’ particularly in relation to making sure local traders are protected.
In light of the comments, a further report will be brought back to the committee in July.