UK Night Time Industries: Social Distancing ‘Will Collapse’ Economy
– Social Distancing
Venue operators and event promoters worry it will kill the economy – and the vibe – of live events.
The UK’s Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) has pointed out that government-enforced restrictions on business capacity and physical distancing would render certain business models unviable.
Aside from capacity and proximity restrictions, increased resource costs and the potential of having to facilitate high level personal protective equipment (PPE), were “bringing into question not only the viability of businesses but whether this is something that can be managed within these spaces,” according to a NTIA.
The association, which represents independent bars, nightclubs, restaurant owners, pubs, festival and live music event operators as well as music managers, has gathered industry voices speaking out against the UK government’s failure to offer any clear guidance on how it expects the events sector to conduct itself going forward.
According to NTIA stats, the UK’s night-time economy is the country’s fifth biggest industry, accounting for at least 8% of UK employment and generates revenues of £66 billion ($82 billion) annually, representing 6% of the UK total.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson gave the latest update on the UK’s roadmap out of this crisis on May 10, but left the events sector “with uncertainty and concern over the details and the exact timeline of when we will be able to open our businesses,” according to NTIA.
Johnson didn’t mention live venues or clubs specifically, he only said that the hospitality sector would be allowed to reopen by July at the earliest, “provided they’re safe and enforce social distancing.”
He didn’t mention capacities or outdoor events, but emphasized that fines for failing to comply with social distancing orders would be increased.
NTIA CEO Michael Kill said, “We recognize the challenges around balancing the measures to safeguard public health against securing the protection of the economy, but the [night-time economy and] events sector will collapse under any proposed restrictions on business capacity, enforced physical distancing, increased resource costs, additional high level PPE, bringing into question not only the viability of businesses but whether this is something that can be managed within these spaces.”
Kill said it was important for the UK government to engage with the sector at the right levels, to first of all understand the sector and therefore be able to give sector-specific recommendations – with a clear timeline and a “comprehensive re-engagement strategy, supported by an extended financial support provision, through sector specific furlough & grants.”
Without this, Kill believes, “we will see 50% of these businesses fail and over two million jobs lost.”
Mike Grieve of the SubClub in Glasgow, Scotland, said: “Fundamentally I don’t see how social distancing can work in a nightclub setting, regardless of the size of the space.
“The very essence of club culture is about sharing emotion and excitement as a crowd in close physical contact with each other. That’s not to mention the practical difficulties of managing bar service, toilets, security searches etc. or the fact that most clubs need 90% + capacity to break even financially. Until we can reopen to 100% capacity I think clubs like ours will remain closed.”
Ben Newby is the operations director at promoter and venue operator MJR TEG. He said, the government was currently looking into two options only: keeping venues shut or allowing them to open with limited capacity and social distancing in place.
“Neither of these options are sustainable or possible as both will result in job losses, closures and the end of the fourth biggest industry in the country in financial terms,” Newby continued, “the industry needs to be given a unique consideration as it will be the most impacted by its very nature.”
Newby suggested, that “instead of a gradual, staggered capacity return, the industry needs to be supported by the government to allow them to remain closed without going out of business.”
Suggested measures include extending the furlough period for the hospitality industry, freezing tax obligations, suspending license fees.
According to Newby, a government ordinance allowing venues to reopen with limited capacity wouldn’t help with building people’s confidence in going out back up. The only thing that would strengthen customer confidence would be government announcing “with confidence” that mass gatherings and social experiences can take place again.
Newby said, “the impact of social distancing on the night time, hospitality and entertainment industry is going to cause irreparable harm as the very essence of the industry is social interaction.”
More comments on social distancing from NTIA members:
Peter Marks, The Deltic Group: “Socialising in most town centre hospitality venues does not work with social distancing. It won’t work practically, or economically.
“Think standing areas, toilets, corridors, staff, and what would happen to the fire capacity? It is the same for pubs, bars, clubs, live music venues as well as most restaurants. It is not for us to determine when we should return to normal albeit most of our customers and staff are in the low risk categories.
“But what we need to know is that we have a long-term support package that includes furlough payments and a rent deal mechanism for forgiveness, not just building up debt to become a zombie company later. That way we can all be ready to give people the social life that is important to so many, whatever their preference for escapism, enjoyment and a night out. Without hospitality we merely live to work rather than work to live.”
Dan Deeks,Motion, Bristol: “Social distancing has had a dramatic effect on our industry. Not only in the now as trading has stopped, but for the future. Confidence in going out will be low and spending from our customers will also be impacted due to economic effects.
“Coming back from this will be very hard, the challenge now is difficult but for example 3 months after opening will be even more so when bills need to be paid.”
Says Paul Daly, Roadtrip & The Workshop Zigfrid Ltd, London: “We operate in a very over rented property in Shoreditch and this rent has evolved on the basis that loads of people come together, tightly together, and let off steam to amazing British & global music.
“My venue does not have the room to have only 50% or 30% of the customers in and survive the huge costs involved in keeping the lights on. I’m vastly experienced at what I do and automatically know that if the government throws us under the bus and demands that we open in the middle of this pandemic we will not survive.”
Peter Hunter, Botanical Garden, Liverpool: “There are changes and measures that will need to happen to industry to help it evolve in changing times.
“There is an obvious need that these are mandated measures and balanced with support, as systems such as reduced capacity will across many industry venues render the business incapable of surviving the next few months.
“There needs to be consultation held with people inside the industry that have the day to day operational experience to figure out suitable best practices.”
Pete Jordan, Weird Science/MADE Festival, West Midlands: “The concept of reducing venue capacities to follow social distancing guidelines is essentially flawed. Beyond the economic aspects, the practicality of keeping audiences apart would be almost impossible to manage in an enclosed space. Leaving event organizers to try to navigate such and issue would neither be fair or financially realistic.”