Examination of witnesses (Questions 40
WEDNESDAY 24 JANUARY 2001
MILLS and DR
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
(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.
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
(Mr Mills) Yes.
47. It is sold in the Market and passes through
(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 food.com" 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 food.com", 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
(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
soldcheese, wine and icethat 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
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
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
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