Labour-run Barnsley council says it is "temporarily standing down" meetings with representatives of the National Market Traders Federation (NMTF) Barnsley Group as concerns escalate over the move to the new Glass Works complex in the town.
The traders' group released details of security problems around a car park their members use, offering to deal with individual traders directly rather than liaising with their elected spokesman.
The authority has also complained to the national NMTF and has said formal liaison meetings will remain suspended until that dialogue is concluded.
One meeting has already been cancelled as a result, deepening a rift between the two organisations which has been growing since the Glass Works market hall opened last year.
Barnsley Council insist the new development, which houses the market hall, is performing to plan with increasing ‘footfall’ from customers and satisfied traders.
However, the NMTF Barnsley Group have raised a string of issues since they moved in over the Autumn and Winter, particularly around new contracts which require six-day trading to bring the market in line with shops. They argue there is too little trade to justify that.
The latest situation erupted when the council’s head of economic development, Paul Clifford, wrote to the group’s president to say he was contacting the national NMTF and was “temporarily standing down our liaison meetings until I have received a response from the national body”.
Mr Clifford’s decision was prompted by the Barnsley Group’s vice chairman Kieron Knight’s decision to release details of a spate of attacks on traders vans in the car park they use, reported through the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
Security concerns had been raised at a liaison meeting in June, but a vehicle was stolen and another damaged last month as problems continued.
Mr Clifford said in an email to the NMTF’s Barnsley group president, explaining his decision: “It was extremely disappointing to see the comments from Keiron Knight on behalf of the Barnsley NMTF in the local media before the council has had an opportunity to progress this area.
“Unfortunately, this is just one of a series of such incidents recently which are counterproductive to the positive working relationship which we have worked hard to build and sustain with the Barnsley NMTF and also damaging to the reputation of the market.”
While liaison with the Barnsley Group is suspended, Mr Clifford has made it clear he ‘and the wider team remain available to the general trader base’.
Barnsley Council has declined to comment further, with a spokesman stating: “We are in discussions with the NMTF’s national body and will provide an update on the outcome of these discussions in due course.
“In the meantime, the council is available to discuss any concerns that traders may have with them directly – as is always the case.”
However, Mr Knight insists his purpose has only been to represent the concerns and interests of Barnsley’s market traders – a position he has been elected to hold.
He said the council had started ‘not answering pertinent questions from small businesses via the NMTF Barnsley Group.’
“Then they have the audacity to say I’m damaging the reputation of the market,” he said.
“Paul Clifford claims we have a positive working relationship and yet does not want transparency and openness concerning meetings, instead cancels meetings when things don’t go his way.
“When representing a large number of market traders whose voices are heard via the NMTF Barnsley Group, of which I am spokesman, I see nothing wrong in getting the news about Barnsley market out to the general public.”
Lib Dem group leader Coun Hannah Kitching said: “This is yet another example of Barnsley Council hiding from and attempting to gag an individual who is putting them under scrutiny.
“The chair of the NMTF was elected by the members and, as I understand it, has the ongoing support of that membership.
“They are well within their rights to report their concerns to the press if the don’t feel they are being heard or taken seriously.
“BMBC need to be more open, transparent and accountable. Attempting to silence their opposition does them no favours.”