Questions have been raised over how the local authority’s plans for its flagship indoor market - which will involve social distancing markers, a one-way system and limits on total customer numbers - will impact on stallholders’ businesses.
Outdoor traders - supported by a council grant for up to six months’ rent - are expected to return from Monday, while those indoor may reopen on June 15. The market will initially open with reduced hours, from 8.30am to 3pm, Wednesday to Saturday.
But traders - who in 2018 were unhappy that hours had been extended to six days a week - are concerned reduced footfall could see mounting running costs they’re unable to recoup.
With opening hours due to be reviewed in August, National Market Traders Federation Barnsley Group vice chairman Keiron Knight told the Chronicle a reopening should be ‘thought about very carefully’ as anxiety among traders rises.
He said: “To be able to get enough people into the market to keep the businesses sustainable, would mean a lot of stalls would need crowds two or three-deep and then two or three staff serving constantly.
“The non-essential businesses in the market will struggle. It will be challenging to get that amount of people in, while adhering to social distancing.”
Barnsley Council pre-empted the government’s small business grants and offered each trader on the indoor market £10,000 from its own pocket.
Fishmongers and butchers have continued to operate with distancing arrangements in place, while a click-and-collect service was also implemented.
Traders have been offered rent breaks for the lockdown period - which the Chronicle can reveal will be continued until October, even if they decide to move back in on June 15.
Andre Spencer, of John’s Shoe Repairs, said: “It will be difficult. Obviously they’ve got to be seen to be doing the right thing, but it’s almost totally unworkable.
“We can’t all do what the couple of stalls in the meat market have been doing.
“The council dipped into their own funds for the £10,000 handouts, which was very good, but they won’t carry much further once stalls reopen.
“Those that have four or five employees will struggle - someone will lose their job.
“I hope I’m wrong, but getting it wrong could be detrimental to the market’s future. It could very easily kill it off.”
Keiron added these means of support would do little for traders once they returned to their stalls - with a Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealing the market had more than £128,000 in unpaid rents from November 2018 up to February. He said: “Before the coronavirus outbreak, the indoor market was in dire straits.
“It’s a very fragile situation that needs to be managed really carefully by Barnsley Council’s market services and economic development department.
“It doesn’t help anyone saying don’t pay the rent, as businesses will go back and their debts will get bigger, so they’re still going to run up a deficit.”
According to a further FOI request submitted by Keiron in March, two traders were being pursued by debt collection agencies.
Coun Tim Cheetham, cabinet spokesperson for place, reiterated the council’s commitment to its ‘cornerstone’ market. He said: “From the start of the pandemic, we reiterated our commitment to our market by keeping food stalls open and trading where possible.
“The safety of our customers, traders and market team is our utmost priority, and we’re working hard to ensure the market is as safe as possible as more of our indoor traders reopen.”