Examination of witnesses (Questions 200
THURSDAY 7 MARCH 2001
QUIN and MR
200. If the Authority came to you and said,
"Minister, the current formula by which MAFF siphons off
so much of the money is wrong and we need to renegotiate this
formula. In fact, we need to get rid of this formula and to make
any sense of this market we have got to reinvest our surpluses.
We have had 25 years of depreciating assets, there is a backlog
of work that needs to be done, and the only way we can deal with
that is to plough surpluses back in and maybe borrow much more
extensively", how would you respond to that?
(Ms Quin) With respect, I think we did deal with this
issue before. We talked about the discussions that take place
regarding trying to get more flexibility in the short term but
also the fact that overall the financial constraints are such
that the policy of selling as a going concern is the route that
we feel should be pursued in the medium term as soon as the legislation
can be given a slot. I think we have discussed that.
201. You have discussed it but in terms of the
actual money has it made any difference?
(Ms Quin) We have discussed it here already this morning.
202. I am trying to tease out what does that
mean. I know in theory you have discussed it; I want the practice.
The formula is there, it is being operated, but clearly it is
a nonsense if you want to keep that asset up to its current or
(Ms Quin) As I said earlier, the formula is there
but we are discussing with the Authority ways of allowing at least
some of the new capital investment to go ahead. That, however,
does depend on a more detailed costing than we have received so
far from the Authority, although I know that is something they
are looking at.
203. I know you went through it and I understand
what it says. It is just that I am trying to ascertain whether
it is a flexible formula because, as we all know, if you move
a figure and put it in one column rather than another it can make
a significant difference to the Authority having surpluses that
it could start to replenish that site with. In terms of selling
it as a going concern the more valuable it is as an asset the
better and the easier it is to sell as a going concern, surely?
(Ms Quin) There is not a great deal of flexibility
in the current formula. In order to get flexibility I think I
am right in saying there would need to be changes to the formula.
204. Just on that, who makes those changes then?
That is a pure MAFF decision?
(Ms Quin) No it is MAFF and the Treasury.
205. Which means the Treasury. Austin?
(Ms Quin) I do not altogether share your cynicism,
206. Can I clear up one point because Mr Mills
told us that the Authority has to get MAFF approval for spending
anything more than a quarter of a million on capital investment
in one year. I got the impression from you earlier that you are
more liberal. That is correct, is it?
(Ms Quin) I think the Chairman's statement was correct.
207. Okay. We can perhaps round it off by looking
at the general situation vis-a"-vis the number of markets
in London. I came to the impression, and indeed it was reinforced
by the evidence from Mr Mills and others, that London is "over
marketed". Would you agree with the Authority's view that
there are too many markets in London?
(Ms Quin) Not necessarily
208. Given the fact that the supermarkets are
taking away an increasing tranche of business and that there are
all kind of casual arrangements in car parks and "flying
Dutchmen" and I have even heard of "flying fish"
in a car park in East London. This is under-cutting market business
and rather than having a larger number of markets pegging away
at half cock, it might be better to have a smaller number working
more efficiently and competitively.
(Ms Quin) Let me say on that I think there are a number
of uncertainties. The Chairman himself talked about the potential
on the catering side and I think that that is certainly there.
I think there is also potential on the e-business side. I also
think that if you, say, compare the situation today with the worries
that existed in 1990 or so at the time of the move of Spitalfields
Market, there was more of a declining and under-usage of markets
then than there is now, in my understanding. I think there are
generally uncertainties, as you would expect in a commercial environment,
as to how things might progress in the future. I have to say also
that I do not see it as my ministerial responsibility to decide
on the future of London markets as a whole. That goes much wider
than MAFF. Our responsibility here is to Covent Garden Market
and we feel that the Authority's view of both potential business
in the catering sector and its overall view on diversification
is something that we would agree with and support.
209. There are two points in that. Your position
therefore is let's wait and see.
(Ms Quin) No, it is not. The position is, as I have
said before, that both in the short term and medium term will
look at ways of allowing Covent Garden Market to attract business
and invest for the future and do what we can to provide the long-term
framework in which that activity can take place. At the same time
we have signalled our interest and support for initiatives which
look at the market strategy for London as a whole, but that is
not something in which we would be the lead body.
210. What is the role there? Surely MAFF is
the main department in these matters, it has some responsibility
and if there has got to be a concentration of markets, a reduction
in the number of markets, then it is surely up to MAFF to give
(Ms Quin) We have taken initiatives of the kind that
I have described, but that is not case. Obviously MAFF has a huge
interest in horticulture and its success in this country and I
would certainly say that that is something that I feel strongly
about, but in terms of the delivery of wholesale markets in London
that is not something that MAFF has lead responsibility. It has
inherited this responsibility with regard to Covent Garden, it
has also signalled through the meeting that the Minister had and
the other initiatives I mentioned that it is happy to see the
question of the future of London markets being addressed but it
does not have the main responsibility for that. That has got to
lie elsewherewith the Corporation of London, with the Greater
London Authority, with the Government Office for London, and so
211. So MAFF does not feel the kind of responsibility
that has been exercised in France where there has been a closure
of certain markets and the build up of one big market outside
Paris which provides most of this produce, in other words, a logical
decision-making based on planning?
(Ms Quin) It has to be said that the legal position
and departmental responsibilities are different from the situation
in France. Nonetheless I will say to you that I think particularly
the development of the Rungis Market does have a lot in common
with some of the ideas that the Authority has in Covent Garden.
212. It is outside and Covent Garden is inside
(Ms Quin) Yes, but I am not sure of the relevance
213. It affects the congestion charge for a
(Ms Quin) I have already answered the question on
214. But the location is crucial. It would seem
sensible to put it outside with access to motorways, but one of
the traders pointed out that most of the business comes from inside
the M25 so it is therefore more logical to have a central market
which I would have thought was wasteful.
(Ms Quin) This is to do with the economy of London
and MAFF is not the department for the economy of London.
215. The economy of food, at least an oversight.
Do you intend then to publish the conclusions of the study into
the possible harmonisation of London markets?
(Ms Quin) MAFF is not undertaking a formal study into
the harmonisation of London markets. What happened was that the
Minister had a meeting with representatives of London markets
but in terms of the future of London markets the main responsibility
of that lies elsewhere.
216. Having a meeting is taking a lead, is it
(Ms Quin) It is taking the initiative but the Minister
certainly did not claim to be the lead. We can hold meetings about
anything we want pretty well but he certainly was not claiming
to be the lead authority in terms of the future market provision
217. Normally, if I may say so, MAFF issues
a press release if the Minister so much as eats a piece of cheese.
There was no press release about the outcome of this meeting.
(Ms Quin) I think there was a press release saying
that he had metI stand to be corrected on that but I know
that when the Minister visited Covent Garden Market he certainly
spoke of the work he had been doing in this respect. I am informed
that there was not a press release about the meeting, so I have
to eat humble pie on that one!
218. Apart from convening this meeting, which
seems a very sensible thing to do to me, MAFF's position is that
basically the question of the survival of a larger or smaller
number, a concentration or not, all of this will be decided by
commercial sites slugging it out to the death between existing
(Ms Quin) No, I did not say that at all.
219. That is the logical conclusion from what
you said. It is not your responsibility therefore that is the
way it will have to be decided.
(Ms Quin) Certainly not. I think the logical way is
for commercial interests, the markets themselves, the Corporation
of London, the Greater London Authority, the Government Office
for London and so on to look at what they want to see happen in
this domain. It is not just a question of commercial actors being
involved. Obviously given the planning and other decisions that
would be involved there are a variety of authorities that would
have and would wish to have a real say in this.