The UK’s night time economy is perhaps one of the hardest-hit industries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there have long been calls for the government to do more to protect what is a £66bn per year industry that has pretty much ground to a halt since the pandemic started. Now however, the industry is finally able to throw more weight behind their campaign, as an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Night Time Economy has been formed with support from the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), which represents over 1,200 venues across the UK.
Cultural venues such as nightclubs and festivals have already been given a strong relief package by the UK Arts Council, with £427 million out of the £1.57 billion package granted so far and a further round due later this month and more beyond that, where hopefully some organisations who were left out for seemingly no reason will get further support. However, while the definition of “cultural” venues was expanded earlier this year to include the likes of festivals, dance music promoters, and industry suppliers, many bars and nightclubs have been left out in the cold. In the UK, many pubs have been able to re-open since the summer, and despite a further four-week lockdown, many are now able to operate under the strict “Tier” system because they serve food. Yet a large majority of late-night bars and clubs are what is known in the industry as “wet-led”, meaning their trade almost entirely relies on the sale of drinks and not sit-down meals. As a result, most of these businesses have been closed since March, with a very real fear that many will not be able to survive.
So what is an APPG? Well, while a lot of criticism being directed at the current UK government led by the Tory Party, an “all party” group can be made up of members from any party. Indeed, the APPG for the Night Time Economy will be led by a member of the opposition Labour Party, namely Jeff Smith, a Manchester based MP who has been Member of Parliament for Manchester Withington since 2015. While he might not be one of the most prominent Labour MPs, he is a “senior whip” which means he has great influence on how other party members vote. He’s also highly suited to this role it would seem. Why? Well, before he hit the benches of the House of Commons, Smith was an event manager and DJ, regularly playing at club events across the North of England, and has even performed at V Festival every year since it started in 1996. Quite the man for the job.
So what’s the aim? Well the primary goal for the group will be to push the government to offer more financial support for the industry. Speaking of the challenge, Smith said:
“The night-time sector is hugely important to both the UK economy and our cultural identity. But in the past nine months, it has faced enormous challenges, and thousands of bars, nightclubs, and live events businesses are at risk of collapse. We will be working hard to ensure that this usually viable, thriving and world-leading sector can not only survive the COVID crisis, but prepare for a prosperous, long-term recovery.”
However, it seems that the formation of this group might raise more questions than it answers. Various APPGs already exist that could cover this issue, and while APPGs in general are a leap forward in terms of bringing ideas and support to ministers, they don’t necessarily have much sway over policy decisions and are more about raising awareness over specific issues. In essence, they are similar to lobby groups, and in this sense it is unclear whether this group will take into account the industry and its many freelancers as a whole, or whether it will be swayed by major pub and bar chains who operate in the UK. The NTIA has also been openly opposed to some aspects of public health measures in recent months, trumpeting hashtags on social media such as #cancelthecurfew and #letusdance, so it remains to be seen whether this campaigning stance influences the APPG’s work.
Meanwhile, it looks likely that things will to normal for summer 2021, with a vaccine roll-out in the UK well under way already, with other countries looking set to follow suit very soon.
Image credit: Anthony Mooney