Government must do more to support nightlife with a long-term strategy for recovery
With just seven days’ notice, the nightlife sector faced an eleventh-hour shifting of the goalposts and thousands of pounds wasted. This was an expense few could afford to lose.
When we established the APPG for the Night Time Economy in December, our nightlife industries were in dire straits. Almost a year of lockdowns, partial-lockdowns and debilitating restrictions had left many across the sector without the hope, support nor confidence needed to maintain their livelihoods. Several months later, with the end just out of reach, it seems very little has changed.
Of course, we have come a long way since December. Our vaccination programme has been enormously successful and I, alongside many in the industry, welcomed the number of pilot tests supported by the government to advance the safe re-opening of nightlife. These pilots, paired with the government’s indicative roadmap, were a sign of optimism and progress; they were a shred of hope that Ministers were actually listening.
It is unequivocally wrong to expect closed businesses to contribute to additional furlough payments while simultaneously delaying their ability to trade
Yet the past few weeks have shown, once again, that the government do not understand or appreciate the practicalities of operating businesses in the night time economy. This is a sector that exudes great passion, talent, and creativity – but is not one that can be switched on and off. As a former DJ and promoter, I am fully aware that the lead time for events can be up to several months; a survey of Night Time Industries Association membership revealed that the vast majority of nightclubs, music and entertainment venues require two to four weeks’ preparation to open.
Because of this, 95% of business had already made a number of financial commitments to the anticipated June reopening: over half had ordered stock, almost three-quarters called in staff, 60% had sold tickets and 80% funded marketing and promotional materials.
If public health requirements necessitated a delay to the roadmap, our government owed it to the night time economy to provide this warning as soon as possible, and to compensate businesses for their losses. With just seven days’ notice, the sector faced an eleventh-hour shifting of the goalposts and thousands of pounds wasted. This was an expense few could afford to lose.
The cancellation of Kendal Calling this week marks yet another consequence of government inaction – this time, on festival insurance indemnity, a prerequisite for organisers to plan for the summer ahead. A lack of transparency on the results of the Events Research Programme further begs the question of why these overwhelmingly successful trials were held in the first place – businesses deserve to understand the data underpinning their restrictions. And with so many other sectors now open to the public, it is no wonder our nightlife industries feel so left behind.
Government must do more to support nightlife, not just until July 19th but with a long-term strategy for recovery. Businesses currently face debts worth up to three years in trading profits and the legacy of Covid-19 will not vanish overnight. It is unequivocally wrong to expect closed businesses to contribute to additional furlough payments while simultaneously delaying their ability to trade. The sector will also need an extension of the restriction grants, loan repayment holidays, rates relief and the reduced VAT rate if businesses are to stay closed for another month. A myopic refusal to provide this support will mean the millions spent to sustain businesses to date will have been in vain. We cannot afford to fall at this last hurdle.
The night time economy, let’s not forget, contributed £92 billion to the UK economy per year pre-pandemic. It provided 1.5 million jobs, alongside a vast supply chain and a wealth of talent. Nightlife is an economic multiplier for our towns and city centres – and in many places, the cultural hubs of our communities. Now, more than ever, they demand respect, recognition and the government support to substantiate this.
Jeff Smith is the Labour MP for Manchester Withington and chair of the APPG for the Night Time Economy.
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