Joe Harrison: Market forces mean traders must adapt
But, as elsewhere, they need to be cared for, not least because they provide an alternative, traditional way of shopping from what you get in a superstore or high street chain.
Yet it must also be remembered that markets fulfil a vital social need for many people who would find it tough to make ends meet without them.
You might not realise it, but collectively retail markets are big business. There are around 1,400 in the UK, either privately-run or operated by local authorities.
About 46,000 traders work on those markets. Add to that staff and the people who manage the markets and you are looking at an estimated 95,000 people directly employed in the industry. The total turnover adds up to more than 3.5bn a year.
There can be no doubt that the out-of-town shopping centres and the supermarkets have had an effect on markets – but the town and city centre shops, too, have been hit, as many councils have now realised, perhaps too late.
The retail markets industry is redefining itself. Acknowledging that markets cannot compete head-to-head with the big boys, traders are looking to provide an even wider variety of goods that the shopper just cannot get anywhere else, and honing their skills in personal, expert service to the customer.
Equally the more enlightened managements are looking at investment in their markets. Certainly, as far as local authorities are concerned market rents are one of the few revenue earners, and to protect that income stream they have to look at retaining the customer base, and hopefully even increasing it.
For the fact is that shoppers who have become used to the convenience and comfort of out-of-town shopping will increasingly expect the same when they visit their markets to get the "extras" for their weekly shop.
And people should visit their markets – if they have not been there for some time they could be surprised.
Markets in Yorkshire are a strong mixture of the big, six-days-a-week halls and the small, once-weekly market town operations, with Sunday markets thrown in for good measure.
For example Barnsley has an impressive market, offering just about everything. And as one trader says, "if we haven't got it, we can get it for you".
Halifax is a fine example of a Victorian market hall, and I know the market management there is extremely keen to look at ways of improving the offer.
Doncaster is well worth a visit, especially for its food hall and its excellent display of fish and meat.
The story is not as good in Sheffield, where Castle Market's redevelopment plan has run for almost 20 years. The city council wants to move the market to a much better location, but proposed schemes with various developers have fallen through.
We can only hope the traders, who have been given rent reductions, will be able to hang on until the new market is finally built.
Of course there is the mighty Leeds Kirkgate Market, where a recent change in management gives the traders renewed hope of some real improvements.
You don't have to visit the big towns and cities for market shopping – North Yorkshire has some interesting market town operations, and Catterick Racecourse is the venue for a large, popular Sunday market.
Our organisation is 32,000-strong and is pragmatic about the challenges facing the industry – a practical approach stemming, perhaps, from the group of South Yorkshire traders who founded the National Market Traders Federation in Sheffield 111 years ago.
It is recognised that there are many traders who need business support, which is why we have introduced NMTF 400 – 400 Ways To Improve Your Sales.
The guide comes in handy, bite-sized chunks that the traders can work through at his or her own pace, providing them with an objective look at their stall from the customer's point of view.
Perhaps more importantly this week saw the launch of NMTF First, a similar, easy-to-use guide to starting up as a market trader.
It is truly a groundbreaking initiative – never before has this training been made available.
It means that people now out of work, or about to be made redundant because of the cutbacks, can take a serious look at market trading.
And while it is not guaranteed, NMTF First should help them through the difficult first few months of trading. For those willing to take the plunge it can be a rewarding move.
Joe Harrison is chief executive of the National Market Traders Federation