A CITY council panel has criticised the way the local authority has been running the historic Covered Market.

Oxford City Council’s scrutiny committee has set out a series of recommendations for how the city centre market could be better run.

It recommends appointing an independent manager to run the market and allowing stalls to be set up in Market Street.

A report written by the scrutiny committee panel also says a review is needed into how leases for traders are handled.

The report says: “It is clear to us that the potential for the Covered Market to contribute to Oxford is as great as it has ever been, and also that the majority of stakeholders are committed to making the changes that are needed to realise this potential.

“Our key message, to the council and to the traders, is the need for a clearer understanding of the role of the Covered Market, and for greater flexibility and co-operation in fulfilling that role. Doing nothing is not an option.”

City councillor Jim Campbell, who led the review, said: “The Covered Market is not just a property which is there for rental income and I think the city council should make its view over what that role is clearer.”

The panel visited four markets around the country to find out how Oxford’s Covered Market could be run better – including Covent Garden and Spitalfields in London and St Nicholas in Bristol.

It found nearly all of them had market managers which were responsible for working with the traders and introducing one for the Covered Market is one its recommendations.

Gordon Piggott, of McCarthy’s fruit and veg stall, said a market manager would be a good idea.

He said: “At the moment there is no one here making all the traders work together and with a market manager we have got a chance of moving forward.

“There are hardly any lines of communication between the council and the traders at the moment.”

Other proposals include investing as soon as possible in the High Street entrances and for the council to commission designs on making better use of the service yard off Market Street.

If approved by the scrutiny committee on Tuesday, the proposals will go before the council’s city executive board, which will also consider another report which it commissioned from consultancy firm the Retail Group.

This report also criticised some aspects of the market and suggested changes ranging from improving the cleaning of it to creating a new second storey.

Arbitrators are currently examining the city council’s proposed rent increases – some of which are as much as 70 per cent and are disputed by the traders.

City councillor Colin Cook, the executive board member for city development, said: “The relationship between the council and the traders has not been good but to say we have not been running it well would be an overstatement.

“Clearly we have to make money from it but we recognise the market as a heritage asset as well. I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive.

“There is a suggestion that the lease structure should be changed and the devil will be in the detail as to how we go about that.”

He said the council is currently advertising for a market manager – and added that he wanted to hire one as soon as possible.