The UK's nightlife industry is in crisis and in urgent need of government support. Many of its key venues are unable to open as normal, some have already shut down permanently, and strict measures such as the 10pm curfew in England and the indoors alcohol ban in Scotland are making business very difficult for the few night-time spots in operation.
A petition has been launched urging for more financial support for the nightlife industry, but so far the response has been disheartening, with government minister Gillian Keegan indicating nightclubs will not be allowed to open without a "long-term way to deal with coronavirus" and the UK chancellor Rishi Sunak suggesting musicians may be better off retraining or finding a new job.
We spoke to London's Night Czar Amy Lamé to get her thoughts on what needs to be done to support nightlife in the capital and beyond. Read the Q+A below.
What have you been during lockdown to safeguard the nightclubs and the nightlife industry?
London’s nightlife is the best in the world and a key part of our culture and economy; it’s clear the virus has had a devastating impact on our industry. Venues saw their incomes completely collapse when lockdown started and although parts of our night-time economy have been able to open their doors in a limited way, they are still facing huge financial challenges, and many have no indication of when they can open again. Nightclubs remain closed, with no word from the government when they will approve a roadmap to reopening, or receive any targeted financial support.
The Mayor of London and I have been doing all we can to support businesses across the creative industries during this difficult time. We launched a £2.3 million emergency fund to help some of the most at-risk small cultural businesses, with 141 grassroots music venues receiving support and guidance to deal with the impact of COVID-19 and £128,500 in grants given to LGBTQ+ businesses in the city, to help the venues hardest hit by the pandemic. We’ve created our Pay it Forward scheme to help businesses with cash flow by offering customers the opportunity to buy goods and services in advance. We also provide one-to-one advisory sessions through The London Business Hub, and tailored support to culture-led businesses through our Culture at Risk office.
I’ve been regularly meeting with people from across the industry to offer help and guidance, lobbying the government and raising concerns at the highest level.
What powers do you and The Mayor of London have over measures put in place in England by the government?
London is at a very serious tipping point in the spread of this virus. The government has failed to set up an adequate testing or contact tracing system, and chose to bring in a 10pm closing time for pubs, bars and restaurants across the country, but did not bring in any additional financial support for these businesses who are seeing their hours reduced.
I’ve spoken to countless bars, clubs and restaurants about the difficulties that they’re facing. For example a third of trading hours for LGBTQ+ venues are after 10pm, and on Saturday, their busiest day, nearly half of their trading hours are after 10pm. Sales have slumped in restaurants, pubs and bars, and UKHospitality has warned that at this rate, many of them are going to be out of business pretty soon.
We’ve been urging government to introduce extra sector specific emergency financial support. We’ve also called on the government to carry out an immediate review of the curfew.
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What do you make of the government minister Gillian Keegan's comments that nightlife jobs cannot be supported because "they don't fit with the virus"?
I completely disagree! London’s night-time economy makes a huge contribution to life in our capital, it’s why many of us live here, why so many visit each year and it contributes billions to our economy.
Bars and pubs are used to operating in a highly regulated environment. They have worked hard to put in COVID secure measures that keep people safe. They are part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Our night-time venues are part of an important economic and creative ecosystem, supporting so many other jobs. We’ve seen hospitality venues across the capital invest in COVID-secure measures to open up again when they can, and I know they will continue to do what it takes to play their role in fighting the virus.
There is no doubt that our nightlife will play a key part in our economic and social recovery from this crisis, and we need the government to recognise this and give businesses the support they need right now.
The 10pm curfew has no known scientific backing as being a legitimate safety measure - what can you and the Mayor of London do to reverse this rule in the capital?
The curfew is having a huge economic impact on London’s night-time economy – with restaurants and pubs losing business – and there are also real concerns this may be a counter-productive measure in stopping the spread of the virus.
We’ve all seen the images of people across the UK gathering and drinking on the streets once licensed premises close. That’s why the Mayor and I have called on the government to carry out an immediate review, and we continue to make this case. We’ve also been urging government to introduce extra emergency financial aid as long as the restrictions remain in place.
Do you advise or consult with other mayors beyond Sadiq Khan - and if so what measures are being done in other UK cities to safeguard nightlife through COVID?
My focus is on London’s night-time economy and providing all the support we can to help it through this crisis, but I regularly speak with Night Czars and Night Mayors from a range of cities in the UK and across the world to discuss what they are doing and what we can learn from each other.
From Manchester to Seoul, Berlin to Sydney, New York to Paris, we discuss what restrictions are being imposed, what support is available and what the industry needs. For example, early into the pandemic we saw Australia and New Zealand opening their restaurants with reduced capacity with no-one in bar areas, and we saw Vilnius in Lithuania creating more outside space.
But each city is different, which is why I regularly speak with all those involved in the capital’s sector, including UKHospitality, the Night Time Industries Association, CODE Hospitality, Federation of Small Businesses, the British Beer and Pub Association, the Society of Independent Brewers and individual venue owners and operators to find out what they need and what we can do to help.
How can nightclubs reopen safely?
London’s nightclubs are the envy of the world and a key part of our economy at night, and although some venues have been able to re-open as a COVID-safe bar-only service, I am hugely worried that the industry has been given no indication of when they might properly open their doors again.
That’s why I have met with the Minister for London to call on government to deliver a roadmap for the reopening of nightclubs. I’ve also brought together Public Health England and night-time businesses to discuss a plan for their future in London.
Our night-time economy is relying on the government to deliver a fit for purpose test and trace system as soon as possible. It is also vital that nightclubs are given the financial support they need while they remain closed, as mandated by the government.
We've all seen the campaigns and the petitions which will raise questions in parliament - but what practical advice do you have for those working in the nightlife industry, such as bars and clubs, to save our scene?
We must all continue to work closely together to help save the bars and clubs that our make our city’s nightlife what it is.
I urge those in the night-time economy to keep pressing the government for financial support, for venues owners to speak to our Culture at Risk support team to access help when they need it, to use our Pay It Forward scheme to encourage customers to support them, and to work with us on planning for the future.
This is an incredibly challenging time, but London’s night-time economy is the greatest in the world and if we all do what we can to support the industry and get the Government to act, we will be able to not just survive this pandemic, but thrive afterwards.
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