Councillors are considering handling St Albans’ historic Charter Market to a private firm, weeks after saying they wanted it to remain under council management.

Lib Dem councillor Robert Donald delivered the news in a closed meeting between traders and council officials last Friday, February 25,

Leaked audio captured him telling them: “The future management of the market may be considered further... No decisions have been made about that. It’s only been something that some members would like to look at.”

Traders were told last Friday that the council’s new market manager had only been hired on a short contract, which will end in June if it is not extended.

The revelations appeared to contradict an announcement Cllr Donald had made in public weeks earlier.

On February 2, he told the council’s Regeneration and Business Committee: “We don’t want to relinquish all managerial control of the market and although we are clearly saying we are now going to look at outsourcing the erection and dismantling of it, we are not saying that we are going to have a hands-off approach for continued running of the market managerially. We still want to do that.”

But council sources have told the Herts Ad that officers running the tender process have encountered reluctance from private firms to take on only the erection and dismantling.

They said contractors wanted to take over the running of the market as well and were providing quotes which, for just the erection and dismantling, might not be financially viable.

They said that if that trend continued, councillors might be forced to consider handing over the management too – although they would retain some oversight of the contractor.

Cllr Donald told traders last week that the council had lost four senior market staff in two years and had “considerable difficulty” replacing them with “experienced, professional staff”.

“I think that’s what’s in the back of some members’ minds as to why it might be better to think about some externalisation of the management,” he added.

Asked to comment on the leaked audio, a council spokesperson would only say: “Cllr Donald has had discussions with the traders and will keep them informed of our plans.”

For more, read:

Victory for traders as councillors ditch Charter Market gazebo scheme