£910,000 bailout for private markets operator 'nodded through' in Doncaster

Opposition councillors have criticised a decision to ‘nod through’ a £910,000 bailout to a private operator running Doncaster markets.

Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 4:45 pm

Members from Mexborough First and the Conservatives called-in the decision which will give Essex-based firm Markets Asset Management (MAM) resources to carry on operations.

The meeting, which was closed to the public and press, heard that bosses said without financial support from the council the markets would become ‘unsustainable’.

They would then fall back into council control. But trading bosses at DMBC said before the markets were handed over, the local authority was losing ‘£580,000 a year’.

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A busy Doncaster Market. Picture: Chris Etchells

In an open letter, Conservative and Mexborough First councillors said they were dismayed that overview of the issue and scrutiny chair were from the ruling Labour group.

One Tory councillor said it was like ‘a child marking their own homework’.

The councillors said they felt the decision had been made ‘without fully looking at all other options’ including bringing the market back in-house.

Mayor Ros Jones and her cabinet passed the bailout decision at a previous meeting in early September.

MAM bosses - who only took control of market operations in Doncaster and Mexborough last year - said ‘Covid-19 pressures’ were the reason for the request for financial assistance.

Doncaster Council refused to comment on the open letter signed by opposition councillors.

Conservative councillor Nick Allen, said: “I think it shows (the executive) are running scared and the call-in was a whitewash.

“We feel, as Conservative councillors, that an opposition councillor should be allowed to chair these important meetings. Otherwise it descends into farce. You wouldn’t ask a child to make their own homework.”

Following the successful tender in 2019, MAM proposed an investment of £6.2m over the 25-year contract period, which included £2.3m to be spent in the first five years.

At present, MAM is ‘actively seeking a new investment partner’ but council bosses say it is ‘very unlikely’ that investment anywhere near the planned scale which will happen within the next three years.

Councillors approved the 25-year deal in February 2019. They claimed it would save the authority £219,000 a year and pay a guaranteed income of £122,000 from both markets.