London Tory accuses Sadiq Khan of turning capital's nightlife into 'Willy Wonka Experience'

Sadiq Khan has been accused by a Tory critic of turning London’s nightlife into “the Willy Wonka Experience”.

The comparison between the mayor’s handling of the capital’s night economy and the disastrous family event in Glasgow was made by Conservative assembly member Andrew Boff.

He added that night venues in the capital are closing “at a rate that would make the Blitz blush”.

Mr Boff was speaking during an online People’s Question Time session, after a member of the public had asked about support for businesses in London.

It came days after the mayor’s night czar, Amy Lamé, defended herself against criticism in an article for the Independent, where she said she had “helped hundreds of night-time venues keep their doors open” in the face of “manifold” challenges for the sector nationally.

Mr Boff said: “The mayor has managed to achieve what no previous mayor has ever done before - he’s making central London’s nightlife boring.

“Despite a small fortune being spent on a night-time czar, who’s supposed to sort it out, London’s night-time venues are closing down at a rate that would make the Blitz blush.

“His well-funded publicity on London, and there’s millions going into it… suggests he’s solving the problem of London’s economy. The reality is, London is now becoming more akin to the Willy Wonka Experience - and it’s time he went.”

Mr Boff was referring to ‘Willy’s Chocolate Experience’, a much-ridiculed immersive show aimed at families in Glasgow. The event was held in a sparsely decorated warehouse and included a frightening character called the Unknown, which reduced children to tears.

Labour assembly member Leonie Cooper hit back at Mr Boff, arguing that Mr Khan’s decision to trial off-peak Tube and rail fares on Fridays over the coming three months will encourage people back into central London and boost businesses.

In her piece for the Independent, Ms Lamé said the capital’s night economy has “faced huge challenges in recent years, due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic, Brexit, the cost-of-living crisis, rising rents and business rates, and staffing shortages”.

She added: “I’ve been working closely with businesses, venues, boroughs and Londoners to support them throughout these challenges, and I’m delighted that London’s hospitality industry sales outpaced the rest of the UK last year. The difficulties facing nightclubs are manifold, and not confined to London.”

Mr Boff’s claim that a “small fortune” is being spent on Ms Lamé was a reference to her salary of £116,925 per year.

The creation of the night czar role was a promise to Londoners made by Mr Khan in the 2016 manifesto on which he was first elected.

Ms Lamé argued in her recent piece that she had several achievements under her belt since her appointment to the role in 2016, saying: “During a difficult time for the night-time economy, I’ve helped hundreds of night-time venues keep their doors open – including the likes of Fabric, Ministry of Sound, Egg, G-A-Y and Fire, to name just a handful.”

While G-A-Y bar remains open, its affiliated nightclub G-A-Y Late announced in November it was to close indefinitely in December.

Mr Khan and Ms Lamé this week celebrated the findings of a City Hall report which found that the mayor’s £500,000 Night Time Enterprise Zones programme led to significant increases last year in spending and footfall after 6pm on high streets in Bromley, Vauxhall and Woolwich.