‘This counterproductive curfew is a joke’: why it could be too late for Britain’s nightlife

·5-min read
Ghost town: PRYZM nightclub in Newcastle remains shut for the near future
Ghost town: PRYZM nightclub in Newcastle remains shut for the near future

Bars, pubs and nightclubs have seen a catastrophic collapse in income due to the Government’s 10pm curfew, with many slamming the measure as counterproductive due to thousands of people spilling onto the streets at the same time and heading to house parties instead.

Coupled with the Government’s lack of support for the so-called night-time economy in its Winter Economy Plan last week, swathes of music venues and pubs now face permanent closure. Bar owners say they’ve been left in a state of “shock, horror and despair” at the hammer blow of recent policy decisions.

The dire state of affairs begs the question: is incalculable damage to Britain’s vibrant after-hours culture a price worth paying to keep a second Covid-19 spike under control?

A growing chorus suggests not. A survey of 300 clubs, venues and bars nationwide about their trading on Thursday and Friday nights – the first two nights of the curfew – found that sales fell by an average of 62 per cent compared to previous weeks. Yet Michael Kill, the chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, which compiled the figures, says they have yet to see any scientific evidence to substantiate the implementation of the curfew.

Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, this morning called for an “urgent review” of the curfew, which he said could be doing more harm than good.

Clubbers prior to the pandemic
Clubbers prior to the pandemic

It seems that the Government have underestimated people’s desire to party. They’ve failed to realise that if you squeeze one part of a balloon, the air will simply find somewhere else to go. Venue operators I’ve spoken to are aghast at the shortsighted curfew.

George Akins is managing director and owner of DHP Family, which owns eight music venues, bars and nightclubs including Oslo in East London and Rock City in Nottingham. He calls the curfew “a f------ joke”. He says that, apart from anything else, it means that non-socially distanced crowds cram out into the street at the same time. “You’re effectively ramming people together. We’re having these exit issues now,” he says.

Mainly, though, the curfew doesn’t work as people simply carry on drinking at unlicensed, crowded house parties. “No one is paying attention to rule of six. We know because we speak to customers as they leave the premises. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘We’re going to a house party.’”

Akins says it’s the Government – rather than young people – who are being irresponsible here. “I’ll tell you what’s irresponsible: thinking that these kids are going to do anything but have a house party. That’s irresponsible. The Government’s naiveté is irresponsible. They’re ruining the livelihoods of businesses out here,” he says. Surely, the argument goes, it’s better to let people party in a controlled environment like a bar than in a packed house or flat?

More harm than good: an illegal rave in Norfolk this summer - Reuters
More harm than good: an illegal rave in Norfolk this summer - Reuters

It emerged over the weekend that the curfew was always something of a fudge. Professor Graham Medley, a member of the Sage scientific advisory group, told one newspaper he had “never heard” the curfew for hospitality discussed at the group’s meetings. Nor were the practical effects modelled by Sage. It was suggested that the curfew was merely a compromise to bridge the political divide between Cabinet members who wanted an emergency two-week ‘circuit break’ lockdown and those who wanted nothing to happen.

According to reports, when the curfew idea was put to the full Cabinet last Tuesday, Business Secretary Alok Sharma and Environment Secretary George Eustice suggested it would be safer to taper the curfew, with last orders at 10pm, rather than send everyone out onto the streets at the same time. But it was reportedly Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove who insisted there should be a 10pm “guillotine”.

According to an insider, the curfew was simply “a good symbolic thing because it’s a low-cost way of sending a clear message that things are different”. Low cost? Try telling that to the bars and pubs who’ve seen their revenues drop by nearly two-thirds as a result.

Even Lord Sumption, the former Supreme Court judge, joined the chorus of dissenters yesterday. He likened the curfew to “trying to fight off a tiger with a feather duster”.

Crowds of punters in London's Soho in July - Getty
Crowds of punters in London's Soho in July - Getty

But the curfew is only one of the issues choking the life out of our beloved pubs, bars and music venues. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Winter Economy Plan last week did little to help the sector.

Sunak said his measures were only designed to help “viable” businesses, which immediately ruled out most of those venues who’ve already had to curtail their activities due to pre-existing Covid-19 restrictions (such as music venues not being allowed to put on gigs).With little financial support forthcoming after the end of the furlough scheme next month, the outlook is dire.

Kill from the Night Time Industries Association said that bars and pubs have been “exiled” by the Government. This “total disregard” for his group’s members – who employ almost eight per cent of the UK’s workforce – will lead to many simply “drawing the line” and making difficult decisions about their future.

Kill could barely disguise his anger after Sunak unveiled his latest package. “The government has chosen to support only businesses able to operate viably and is completely ignoring those who have been unable to trade since March whilst leveraging crippling restrictions on the businesses that can open,” he said late last week.

“It is simply not good enough to allow much loved entertainment, cultural and social institutions in an industry that, pre-Covid, employed over 1.3 million and contributed £66 billion per year to the UK economy, to disappear with all the corporate and personal pain that causes.”

The British Beer & Pub Association agreed, saying Sunak’s measures “do not go nearly far enough to save thousands of pubs”.

It could already be too late. The Government should either offer urgent and targeted support to our crucial pubs, bars and music venues or it should back off immediately and let them trade. At the moment it’s doing neither. And it is in danger of bleaching the rainbow of all our lives in the process.

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