It's time to stop demonising London's night time economy.
Too often, when the city's people get together in the evening in bars and pubs, it's seen as inherently problematic, criminal, dangerous. Arguments are proposed for the ‘protection’ of people (who are often referred to as being ‘vulnerable’) in the name of ‘safety’.
We're told the places which have become popular to go out need 'special policy' zones, often in the name of reducing crime and anti-social behaviour — a generic term that refers to a vast range of 'crimes' from speaking obnoxiously to far more serious activity.
Seldom do we stop and note that the main point about all these zones is that an area has become desirable, interesting and successful.
Usually too, most crime records do not account for the numbers proportionally attending areas. And as if that weren't bad enough, crimes get noted as 'alcohol-related' (and then used in arguments against night time business) despite the fact there's no 'alcohol-related' category in English law.
Yet it does not prevent a question that police will ask someone who has committed a crime: “Where did you consume your last drink?” as though a venue has programmed them, like robots, to go and act illegally. Never is the recognition made that thousands of law-abiding citizens consume drinks in the same premises and then simply go home, sometimes after falling in love, being inspired or just remembering a good joke they've heard.
Never is the recognition made that thousands of law-abiding citizens simply go home, sometimes after falling in love, being inspired or just remembering a good joke they've heard.
10 years ago, when the 2003 Licensing Act was finally enacted on 24 November 2005, we were warned of binge drinking and out-of-control crime. In reality what has happened is that serious crime has decreased significantly; A&E levels have stabilised and almost a third of young people describe themselves as being teetotal.
Since the act came in Londoners have tended to spread their drinking over the extra hours, although the amount of 24-hour licences in use nationwide is negligible and most premises only increased their closing times marginally at most.
Local council licensing departments, licensing police officers and those that have been involved in health policy have often come to share an outlook about the night time that is informed by numerous negatives. Alcohol is often only discussed with the additional word 'harm' attached to it.
Yet our creative innovators that design, open up and operate new bars, clubs, pop-ups, restaurants and festivals are increasingly charged with the burden of taking responsibility for all sorts of activity that should give us all cause for concern. Take the recent threat against clamping down on late opening hours in Hackney.
All the while, we see the reduction of investment and resources on the one hand, for police and local councils while being expected to do more. This produces the situation where the police constantly feel under pressure to ‘prove their worth’ by quoting stats and being statistics-driven and led.
A serious conversation about resources and policing is required in the UK and London. Some like the idea of Business Improvement Districts with ‘street pastors’ and private security guards being paid for out of contributions from night time businesses. The police are democratically accountable; however if we are to increase privatised security, that's a discussion to be had with British voters (who largely voted against privatising the police).
The public also voted against ID cards, but for many nightclubs, and an increasing number of bars, they are required to get in, along with searches, metal detectors, CCTV, extra security guards, and breathalysers. All this, and other measures besides, are not only enormously costly, but also create a certain ambience.
That is why it is to the credit of mayor Boris Johnson and his team that they have supported the creation of a night time economy champion for London. Understanding the tricky interconnected issues between transport (we await with bated breath the 24-hour tube) housing, police and businesses the mayor’s office has understood the value of the night time sector and the need for London to be an internationally competitive global city.
Rather than view our citizens and visitors as potential criminals, as a drain on resources, as a problem, as committers of anti-social behaviour, we should approach the night time like we did the Olympics and Paralympics
To help shape this role, The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) invited Amsterdam’s night time mayor Mirik Milan and Berlin Club Commission’s Lutz Leichsenring over to shed light on some of the things that have worked along with challenges they have faced. Berlin and Amsterdam are of course different to one another and much smaller than London. However, it was a productive 48 hours.
These are bold steps that should be encouraged for a future for London that is smart, ‘joined up’ in the true sense, ambitious yet practical and realistic. The night time industries are a vital part of the overall fabric of night and day business in our 24-hour cycle.
It is also important that the local boroughs take up the spirit of this and that the police, licensing officers, local councils and national government work together to champion the future of our city together.
Stifling, restricting, and punishing the industry for (increasingly fewer) acts by individuals must be replaced with treating it in a grown-up way — as we do when banks are robbed, or shopping centres experience theft and attacks.
Rather than view our citizens and visitors as potential criminals, as a drain on resources, as a problem, as committers of anti-social behaviour, we should approach the night time like we did the Olympics and Paralympics: the night time economy is an exciting and enthusiastic project for all of us to enjoy. With some costs for sure, but with such enormous benefits. In the end, it comes down to what kind of city, what kind of world do we want to live in?
Let’s all partner and go forward, together #InToTheNight.
Alan D Miller is chairman of the Night Time Industries Association