QVM traders say increased costs would hurt business
Queen Victoria Market (QVM) traders say uncertainty looms over the future of their businesses after being informed they will face additional fees to cover rising operational costs.
The market’s management told stallholders in August that they would soon have to pay fees for services including utilities, storage, water and rubbish removal, which would be on top of their rent.
QVM’s CEO Matt Elliott said the changes, to be effective from January 2025, were needed for the future financial sustainability of the market, with stallholder licence fees also to go up by four per cent in November this year.
“Unfortunately, like all businesses at the moment, the reality is we are facing a highly inflationary environment where costs associated with managing the market have increased significantly in the past few years and are currently exceeding revenue,” he said.
“Electricity costs in particular have spiralled as more traders add large walk-in cool rooms which operate 24/7 – even on days when the market is closed.”
Mr Elliott said he understood “no one likes to have to pay more” and they had “worked hard to keep rising costs to an absolute minimum”, which he felt had “achieved a fair and balanced outcome”.
But traders, who have already endured construction disruptions due to the market’s renewal project, as well as doing it tough during COVID-induced lockdowns, said they were blindsided by the changes.
They said the fees would be unaffordable for many, particularly for fruit and vegetable traders who collect more waste and so use more related services, which could see them charged between $1915 and just under $4000 more per year, depending on the size of their business.
“The extra cost of waste disposal will make selling lettuce unprofitable unless the public is willing to pay $6 to $7 for each lettuce,” produce trader Raymond Fong said.
Another trader, Rosa Ansaldo, who has been running a fruit and vegetable stall for 35 years, said the new fees should not fall on traders’ shoulders.
“With no customers coming through the week, we need more customers to cover our outgoings,” she said.
There is no way we can support this and still be in business. I do not understand why there is an increase when the market is cleaner and smaller.
Stallholders are also confused after 650 solar panels were installed on the market’s sheds a year ago to cut carbon emissions and reduce electricity costs.
In an email to traders, management said 2023–24 costs were forecast to be $26.7 million – an increase of 18 per cent compared to the previous financial year despite having undergone “rigorous scrutiny of all expenditure”.
“This exceeds forecast revenue of $25.1 million for the same period. If action is not taken, the gap between costs and revenue is expected to grow further in 2024–25,” the email said.
Mr Elliott said management to date had absorbed the cost of providing electricity and waste services while maintaining minimal licence fee increases and was committed to supporting traders and maintaining QVM “as an accessible and affordable place to do business”.
But Friends of Queen Victoria Market president Mary-Lou Howie described the changes as a “money grab”.
“It’s a breach of promise really, they were promised no price increases during the renewal – traders were completely unprepared for this,” she said.
“The market is essential for the food security of Melbourne and COVID proved that when the supermarket shelves were empty … the market was able to provide.”
“The council is killing the market. [They] would be better investing in the market’s traders rather than unwanted and expensive infrastructure.” •