Liverpool market traders chief hits back at arrears increase

The chair of St Johns Market Traders Association has angrily hit back as debt owed to Liverpool Council by businesses now stands at £2m.

With the shutters still down on the city centre market hall, Cllr Nick Small, cabinet member for growth and economy, said arrears incurred by dozens of businesses had risen from an initially established £1.7m to £2.1m after new investigations by the authority. Last Autumn, the city council said it would seek to recover three years’ worth of debt from the traders that occupied St Johns Market.

Colin Laphan, chair of St Johns Market Traders Association, has spoken of their shock at the new figures and criticised Liverpool Council’s management of the market.

In 2016, £2.5m was spent to renovate the site but proved unpopular, even with then Mayor Joe Anderson, who initially offered traders three, then six months free rent as an incentive to stay and increase footfall. Around £1m a year was being spent to subsidise the market by the city council.

It is understood the additional money identified by the council is made up of arrears owing to a small number of traders. This is made up of some leaving the market before the end of their official agreement with the council and some businesses occupying two units while only being officially listed as operating one.

Some of the increased arrears also dates back to historic debts owed to the city council. Cllr Small took part in a phone-in debate with opposition leader, Cllr Carl Cashman, on BBC Radio Merseyside, describing it as a “difficult but necessary decision” to close the market.

He said the market was “not on a sustainable footing” and was “jeopardising other services”.

Mr Laphan was emotive in his response to the new figures. He said, “We are already in extreme shock at the values attributed to the traders.

“The landlord reinstated the rents without fixing any of the breaches of its covenants, and as a process of managed decline, this made us further endure intolerable conditions and reduced public access. Apart from anything else, this is a clear breach of our human rights.

“This alleged debt includes dead people and people who were forced out of business due to the conditions. This is all documented and no doubt will be part of court cases.”

The long-time trader also cited then-Mayor Anderson’s own admittance that the refurbishment hadn’t been as successful as hoped and criticised an alleged failure by the authority to fix an escalator into the market, as well as toilets and temperature control. He added: “Nick Small repeatedly falsely claims the individual traders failed to engage with the council.

“This is blatantly untrue. At all times, the traders acted as a collective, and the SJMTA engaged with the council through our legal representatives.”

A special meeting of the city council has been convened for Tuesday to discuss the future of the market. The extraordinary session has been called for by the opposition Liberal Democrats who have urged local authority leadership to reopen St Johns immediately.

Image: GOOGLE

Why not follow birkenhead.news on Facebook, Twitter, and Threads? You can also send story ideas or letters to the editor to news@birkenhead.news