Anger as group of long-time traders at Leamington Autumn and Christmas markets have their applications for stalls at this year's event turned down by new operator
The traders have written an open letter to Warwick District Council expressing grave concerns for their livelihoods and are demanding answers about the process which has led to CJ's Events becoming the new operating company for the market
Market stall holders who have traded at the Leamington Autumn and Christmas Market in the town centre for many years are being left disappointed because their applications for this year's event have been turned down by its new operator.
John Thaff, who sells Indian food from his Spice Fever stall and recently traded at the Leamington Canal Festival and outside the Somerville Arms during lockdown, had a stall at the markets in the Parade - which take place on Sundays in the months running up to Christmas - for 12 years under previous operator Sketts.
But his application with new operator CJ's Events has been turned down.
He said: "They are messing with my livelihood.
"I have spoken to other operators and they have told me that the first thing they do if they take over at a new market is to ensure traders there get a spot.
"I want to know what they have against us and why they are bringing different traders in.
"We are all just trying to survive in the world we are living in right now.
"Everyone has been hit hard by the pandemic and they should be encouraging businesses to bounce back and thrive.
"It's not like they are offering anything new either, it's a space for a market stall at the end of the day."
Several other traders have also had their applications turned down for this year's event.
Some have written an open letter to Warwick District Council titled 'Leamington Lost' and addressed it from the 'Dislocated Leamington Spa Market Traders'.
The letter says: "Each year Leamington Spa is host to a very popular, high quality, autumn and xmas fayre. Every Sunday from the beginning of October until Christmas, over 100 local businesses set up stalls provided by market operators, Sketts EG & Co.
"This market was conceived and operated by Sketts for the past 27 years to the delight of locals and visitors who love the event.
"After a very difficult 2020 and 2021, which saw our livelihoods disintegrating to nothing, Warwick District Council have awarded the rights to run the event to a different market operator. The impact of this change cannot be understated.
"The new market operator has rejected our applications to trade at the markets in 2021.
Those that are offered places have seen pitch fees rise by 80 per cent.
"Price rises like this make the market untenable for traders offering quality products. Invariably, when costs rise, quality of offerings goes down and this will be evident in the quality of offerings at the markets this year.
"We have built a loyal following in Leamington.
"Locals, and visitors to the town, love the autumn and Christmas markets.
"They have always been very loyal and supportive because they had faith in the quality produce that was on offer from local small businesses.
"Over the last ten years we have become friends. Leamington residents look forward to the event and welcome their favourite stalls returning each season.
"We have watched families grow and expand year on year, our businesses becoming stitched into the fabric of life in Leamington.
The success of this event is down to Sketts and the people who have traded there consistently, each year, during rain, wind, snow and even a global pandemic.
"However, the rug has been pulled out from under us.
"Without consultation and without consideration for the effect this decision would have on local small businesses, including ours.
"This decision could not have been more ill timed or ill considered.
"Along with many other long time traders of this event, we find ourselves with no hope for the rest of 2021.
"There are so new events to move to and there is still doubt over those that already exist.
"We would like to know what drove Warwick District Council’s choice to hand the reins of a consistently successful event to a different operator?
CJ's Events has been the operator of weekly retail and the monthly producers’ markets across the Warwick district since 2015, and this year, following a successful tender process, been appointed the operator of the Autumn & Christmas Markets.
Jamie Walker, company director for CJ's Events, said: "Our proposals submitted in the tender are to improve and develop these markets into a higher quality market, offering arts, crafts, eco and unique goods to ensure the experience to our market and town is a high standard for visitors.
"While we appreciate traders have supported this market for years, if we do not make changes and bring in some new traders, and make a new and fresh look, there would be no point in us being appointed as a new operator.
"We know this is disappointing, and this is a very difficult balancing act for us, but we do need to make significant changes to ensure these markets coincide with the quality markets and events we are known for delivering.
"We are limited on spaces due to the new format of our markets we’re proposing, and have been inundated with applications. Any new operator taking over a market which has been run by the same operator for years will always face challenges, and this is something we expected to happen.
"We want to ensure we deliver fantastic and memorable Autumn and Christmas Markets and feel the planning processes are in place to ensure this will happen.
A spokesman for Warwick District Council added: "As has been the case for many years the selection of an operator to run the markets in Warwick district has been undertaken through a compulsory tender process.
"In previous years there have been separate contracts one for the General Markets (Warwick and Kenilworth, Covent Garden Markets & Producers Markets) and another for the Seasonal markets in Leamington (Autumn and Christmas Markets).
"A decision was made to combine the contracts and in April 2021 potential operators were invited to bid for a four year contract to run all the district’s markets.
"The legal tender process was blind, so those making the decision did not know which organisation had submitted the application.
"Three companies applied and the contract was awarded to CJs Events.
"In managing and awarding the market contract Warwick District Council has set a number of guidelines around the number, type and quality of stall permitted to operate and are mindful that in general our high streets are suffering both as a result of the pandemic an increase in online shopping.
"In the case of the Autumn and Christmas Markets in Leamington a decision has been made to reduce the number of stalls by 40 per cent (from 100 down to 60) in order to improve access to the retailers located along the Parade and to ensure that the stalls that operate complement rather than be in direct competition with shops, cafes and restaurants with a permanent presence."