(Mis)managing Markets

Regular readers of this column will know that I’m ascerbic in my criticism of municipalities controlling and managing fresh produce markets.

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I simply do not believe that an entity designed to provide services to its citizens is able to manage a dynamic, complex business such as a market. Add politics, entrenched habits of inertia among far too many municipal employees, and rampant bureaucracy – and you have a recipe for failure.

It has been demonstrated again and again over many years that successfully managing a market is a hands-on business that requires the market manager to be on the trading floor daily – not away at municipal meetings ‘in town’, as seems to be the practice these days.

The way it was
Managers who made a success of their markets were, without exception, to be found on the market floor early on most mornings. They were familiar with prices, the supply and demand of produce, the state of facilities and, perhaps most importantly, the people working there. Producers could phone the ‘market master’ (as they were known at one time) to check on prices, lodge a complaint or seek some information.

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I wonder how often that happens today. If it does, what would the manager be able to tell the farmer about the state of affairs on the market floor? I suspect that, in most cases, the caller would be passed on to another official. These days, only rarely does a market manager venture ‘go walkabout’. Yes, there are senior staff to handle the mundane matters, but nothing beats the presence of ‘the boss’ on the market floor.

Eliminate interference
No doubt any municipality could run a successful market if it really wanted to. This would require several steps. First, eliminate political interference and appoint real managers, not political pals. Then give the market manager real authority, balanced with accountability. Replace the people who specialise in inertia with people who want to work. And, finally, replace bureaucracy with sound boardroom management. I’m sure it can be done. But first, it needs the will of those at the top to make meaningful changes.