Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. This would be a major disincentive to people using the Market, would it not?
  (Mr Mills) Oh, yes, and the same is true of people using, for example, Smithfield or Billingsgate Markets, which are in the congestion zone.

  41. How would you describe the attitude of the Mayor of London in any relationship you have had with him in discussing this?
  (Mr Mills) There is no relationship. It takes two to have a relationship. I have invited him to come around the Market as soon as he can. We have had a number of people around the Market. Mr Drew joined a group of MPs once. Politicians, MPs and members of a Lords committee have all been to the Market. In fact, the Chairman of your Committee is very welcome to come round the market.

  42. The Chairman has been. If I can declare an inferential interest, my daughter is a garden designer and drives to the Market four days a week to buy flowers. She has taken me to the Market.
  (Mr Mills) Excellent. I do find the attitude of the Mayor, to be quite blunt, contemptuous. I have had people phoning up his office to ask "Why don't you answer letters?"

  43. You mentioned it in passing, and I wanted to explore it with you.
  (Mr Mills) I am very glad, Chairman. In days of very tight profit margins, extra costs like that could tip somebody over into the red. I think the Mayor's attitude is appalling.

Dr Turner

  44. I am interested in what you say about the number of lorry movements. What portion of the goods sold actually physically goes through the site? Is it still very much one hundred per cent of what is bought by the Market that leaves or does only a portion actually come to the site?
  (Mr Mills) The wholesalers will get British food and foreign food. The majority of the produce they sell would be imported. It is a fact of life for a number of reasons. The majority of food produce sold by the wholesalers is foreign, not British. We have discussed the problems with the NFU. There is no secret about that. The catering distributors would buy a lot of their stuff from the market. As a rough figure, well over half of the food produce sold in the Market is foreign.

  45. I am not asking about that. Perhaps I was not clear enough. If it is being sold in the Market, does it physically come to the Market and then leave the Market or is the transaction based upon a sample?
  (Mr Mills) No, the stuff comes to the Market.

  46. Everything actually comes physically to the Market?
  (Mr Mills) Yes.

  47. It is sold in the Market and passes through your site.
  (Mr Mills) Yes, except for people like the fruit importers, but even that produce comes physically. They would deal with sites like Columbia or Costa Rica by phone or fax.

  48. Would there be a warehouse somewhere else where a sample is seen?
  (Mr Mills) No, the food product is physically there in the Market.

  49. The reason I am asking this is that it is quite clear, as you answered in an earlier response to Mr Jack, that you are very actively putting large sums of money into exploring the concept of virtual markets. You have said that you are engaged in paying attention to that. In terms of your diversification, have you looked to any form of public/private partnership with those who are at the other end of the marketplace physically to see whether this is something you could actually be well placed to be involved in rather than seeing it as a threat?
  (Mr Mills) Not in that sense but we have our own website. We have been discussing with people whether to key in, as it were, to be part of, say, the "world of" as an international electronic trading market, or whether to have traders registered with us who want to use our website for their own relationship with customers and suppliers. There are various ways in which we in the Authority could get involved. We do not want directly to be involved. We cannot be a trading company as such, so we have to be very careful. I think we will look at whether we can provide the access and the means of access for our trading companies to go down that road. That is why, first of all, we commissioned a study on the impact of dotcom. Then we held a seminar with the results of that study, also incorporating this big e-commerce market, "world of", to explain that this is actually up and running. We asked whether they want to play a part in that and how the Authority should be linking in with it and, in a sense, should it be a postbox for traders to get in to that. So we are actively considering this.

  50. In your annual report you have a phrase which indicates that it is your policy to establish a one-stop shop for the catering trade. You referred to that concept earlier. How much substance has that got? Is that a well-researched demand or is it an aspiration? Do you have actual evidence and have you had work done on site of the possible market for such a one-stop shop?
  (Mr Mills) No, is the direct answer, because it would be almost impossible to do that, but we believe that by example the opportunities for diversification and the creation of the one-stop food shop are happening. When we first went down the road of selling non-horticultural produce or allowing it to be sold—cheese, wine and ice—that created a ripple of interest. Then when we had the Canadian lobster company which created a significant interest in the fish trade. Then we had the smoked salmon man, and that has been of considerable interest to other fish traders in other markets. We intend to build on that by advertising the availability of our market and being able to provide for fish and meat. The Ministry are in support of our policy, as they have said in the evidence you have. We cannot give a figure and say that we want to have X number of companies by a certain date because it is a market.

  51. I am not asking for a business plan but whether you have done the market research to see what the potential for the Market is.
  (Mr Mills) I do not want to upset the market research people.

  52. Why not?
  (Mr Mills) All right; they borrow your watch and tell you the time! I do not really think it would be worth it. I cannot speak for the Corporation of London, for example, but we do know that there is a number of existing traders in the Corporation's markets who are making tentative inquiries to us. We know, because it has been said to us by some of those traders, that once we get three or four traders coming over, then a great deal more will want to follow suit. That is not statistical market research. We operate in the traditional market sense by word of mouth and who knows what and who knows who. Our indications are that, now the Ministry has given us the green light and now we have started to get these inquiries, within the next couple of years the development of the one-stop food shop can take off. Five years ago the Ministry's attitude was: you cannot have more than X per cent of your non-horticultural space going to other food products. It is now accepted that the wording of our Act means that we are primarily a wholesale horticultural market but that wording also says that we have got to make best use of our assets, which can mean that we can have up to half, if not more, non-horticultural product. We have the support of the local authority and of the Ministry. We are now starting to get the traders coming forward.

  53. Reading on from your talk about the support of the Minister, the submission we have from MAFF actually tells us that the Minister is currently considering a proposal by the Authority to grant a lease to a company which wishes, among other things, to sell on meat and poultry products direct to buyers on site. There has been objection to that from the Corporation and the City of London.
  (Mr Mills) Yes.

  54. I wondered if you could tell us how long it has been on the Minister's desk, when you actually submitted the proposal and have you had any indication of when you will get a decision?
  (Mr Mills) It has been with the Minister for a few months.

  55. Can you give us a date?
  (Mr Mills) I think about September/October but, to be fair, the delay is not the Minister's fault because the Minister quite properly asked every interested party for its views. The Corporation of London have said they object. The Minister has asked the Corporation for the particular reasons, legal reasons, if there are any, why they object. I know that the Minister and the Ministry have been trying to get from the Corporation of London their detailed reasons for upwards of two years. If there is any delay, as there is, in my view it is clearly at the door of the Corporation of London. Actually the date was 15 November.

  56. In the memorandum we have received, we have been told that the essential objection is based on the grounds of common law as to the establishment of the Market being within six and two-thirds miles of another market selling a similar commodity.
  (Mr Mills) That is what the Smithfield tenants have said, yes. I do not think the Corporation have mentioned six and two-thirds miles. You are probably well aware—

  57. The Minister is given those views as the Corporation of London.
  (Mr Mills) I appreciate that.

  58. What is your view of the strength of that objection on legal grounds?
  (Mr Mills) It is not very good. I think it is a ludicrous objection. You know what the six and two-thirds miles is based on?

  59. No, I do not think I do.
  (Mr Mills) It is based on Medieval England and the distance then that a man, a grower, could carry his load to market, work an eight-hour day and carry the balance of his load back, and the average distance he could cover was six and two thirds miles. That was England in the 14th Century. I do not really see in the 21st Century—

  Mr Jack: You miss those times, do you not George!

  Chairman: It takes longer to get six and two-thirds miles today!

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