Street markets 'more powerful than supermarkets'

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The Independent Online

Local street markets generate twice as many jobs as big supermarkets and sell goods at half the price of the supposedly cut-price retail giants, research shows.

Planning decisions that favour the building of huge outlets over established smaller markets could result in fewer jobs and less choice for local communities, a report by the think-tank the New Economics Foundation (NEF) warned.

The report adds to the growing backlash against retail giants such as Tesco and Asda, amid concerns that independent traders are being forced out of business by unethical practices.

Guy Rubin, author of the NEF report, said: "The irony is that planning decisions are being taken which are undermining the small enterprises that can prevent us from becoming a nation of clone towns, as well as impoverishing local communities and econ-omies and reducing consumer choice. They may even be resulting in net job losses."

The Competition Commission has announced it is launching a full inquiry into the £95bn grocery sector after accusations that the big supermarkets are abusing their power by selling goods below cost. The "big four" in Britain - Asda, Sainsbury, Tesco and Morrisons - control 75 per cent of the sector.

The NEF report focused on Queen's Market in east London, which is also the subject of the film Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price. The film, which premiered last week, highlights the struggle of Queen's Market against plans to demolish it and build a giant Asda store on the same site.

Wal-Mart is the American owner of Asda and has been accused of bullying communities and exploiting staff to keep prices down. The big supermarkets and their supporters have always claimed that they create more jobs, offer consumers more choice and keep food prices down.

But the NEF report found that an average basket of goods bought at Queen's Market was 53 per cent cheaper than at the nearest Asda supermarket.

Low-income customers could also haggle prices down, and people from ethnic minorities in the area said they had better access to specialist foods such as halal meat and Afro-Caribbean fruit and vegetables. The market provides twice as many jobs per square foot of retail space as the food superstore and generates £13m a year for the local economy, the report found.

The growing popularity of independent markets selling locally sourced or unusual produce is helping to turn public opinion against the "big four", opponents of the retail giants believe.

A survey of 1,000 people for ICM last week found more than 80 per cent of consumers want new laws brought in to curb the power of the big supermarket chains. Campaigners are concerned at the proliferation of huge out-of-town supermarket retail sites as well as the huge number of former corner shops that have been bought up and rebranded as Tesco Metro or Sainsbury Local stores.

The number of independent corner shops now makes up less than half of the convenience store sector.

A £1.3bn industry

* Markets represent our oldest and most successful form of exchange and are the reason why many towns exist. Some date back to medieval times and were established by royal charter

* There are more than 1,700 markets in the UK through which shoppers spend £1.3bn a year

* Borough Market, established in 1756, is London's oldest fresh produce market and still trades from its original site

* New Covent Garden Market is the largest wholesale market in the UK with over 250 companies on site employing more than 2,500 people

* A farmers' market is one in which farmers, growers or producers sell their own produce, direct to the public

* More recently, there has been a trend for Christmas markets with stalls offering locally-produced hams and chutneys as well as presents and decorations

* The food and vegetable markets have been the heart of Portobello Rd Market in Notting Hill since the area was residentially developed in the 1860s. As opposed to the rest of the famous market which only opens on weekends, there are fruit and veg stalls six days a week

* Smithfield market is one of the few historic markets not to have moved. It has been used over the centuries as London's main livestock market and also for public executions

* Leadenhall market dates back to the 14th century and fishmongers, butchers and grocers still sell their produce here

* Columbia Road Flower Market is a Sunday market in East London. It was established in 1869.