Traders have called for action after it was revealed nearly one in three stalls on Doncaster Market is standing empty.
Figures show the number of empty stalls on the market has increased from 27 per cent in October 2014 to 30 per cent in March of this year.
The data was published yesterday by Doncaster Council as part of a follow-up audit review into the progress made by the markets and town centre management team following a damning report last year in which a ‘no assurance’ rating was given – the lowest possible rating. The review revealed progress had taken place since the audit in 2014-15 and the audit opinion had now been revised to ‘partial assurance’ - the second best rating. The stall occupation figures come as long standing traders warn there may not be a market left in ten years unless drastic action is taken.
Pat Queen of Queens Butchers has seen around 30 business leave the market in the last few years alone.
He said: “We needed improvements years ago. If things continue like this, in ten years’ time we won’t have a market.
“We are all so passionate about what we do and proud to be market traders but that passion is being knocked out of us because we aren’t getting the support we need.
“The council and markets team must work with traders. We need investment and free car parking to encourage customers to come back to the market. At the minute traders are disappearing day by day.”
A number of council staff were disciplined last year following the February 2015 ‘no assurance’ report, in which a list of failings were identified at Doncaster Market.
But improvements were said to have been made following the introduction of a cashless rent collection system, which had reduced the levels of cash collected from around £25,600 a week during 2014/15 to £300 to £400 a week.
The review said: “This significant reduction in cash handling has greatly reduced the risk of fraud and error.”
But inspectors warned more could still be done to improve the system as only one officer was involved in handling the cash and there were no independent checks being done.
The report also highlighted an increase in stall rent arrears from £8,000 in February 2015 to £58,000 in April of this year.
Peter Jackson, internal audit manager, said this was down to better identification and recording of debt rather than a problem with debt collection but work was required to ensure it was brought under control.
Improvements were also said to have taken place on checks undertaken on new traders to ensure that they were entitled to work in the UK and held specific and relevant licences.
But the report said in some instances these are not being properly evidenced on the traders’ individual files.
Adrian Pickersgill, head of commercial services said: “The market is vibrant, there’s a real buzz about the place and lots of bargains to be had. Improvements are taking place but we realise there are always areas we can improve on and we want to work with the traders to ensure that the market continues to be the jewel in Doncaster’s crown.”