Saving Our Scene

Today’s blog comes from Councillor Nicola Beech, Cabinet member for Strategic Planning and City Design.

Since March, Bristol at night has been much quieter than usual.

In normal times, there would be groups of people enjoying our famous restaurants and bars well into the night, or spilling out of world-renowned clubs and live music venues. But now we are living with a 10pm curfew which has cut trading time for many, plus social distancing restrictions that have shut some premises entirely.

I know recent measures have added more uncertainty to an already challenging situation, and that many hospitality businesses feel they are being blamed for a rise in cases nationally. Venues now risk being fined for allowing dancing on their premises or playing music above 85 decibels. Businesses are being asked to continually adapt and adapt again, with little notice.

The vast majority of businesses that are in a position to reopen have done a brilliant job at making their venues safe.  I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them for that. But it’s important we don’t forget those who simply cannot open in the current circumstances.

Across the city, many thousands of jobs are now at risk. With just one month of the furlough scheme remaining, businesses are left trying to get to grips with what recent announcements mean for them and whether the Job Support Scheme will be enough for them to retain their staff. 

The scheme tops up the wages of those who are now needed for fewer than their usual hours. The company pays the employee for at least a third of their usual hours, and then the government and the company will top up the rest to ensure staff receive 77% of their usual pay. But the wording used by the government – that the scheme is designed to protect viable jobs – has led to understandable concern for many in those sectors that have been affected by the current measures. What does this mean in practice and who does it exclude?

For those venues whose doors have remained shut for the past six months, there is no possibility of bringing staff back – even part time – as things stand. There is a real risk that many of our cultural institutions won’t be able to access this support and may struggle to survive the winter.

We do not have the same powers and funding as a combined authority like Greater Manchester or the Greater London Authority. But while we do not have the money that Sadiq Khan or Andy Burnham have to directly support the sector financially, we are using the channels we have available to us. We are analysing the guidance, which is often confusing and open to interpretation, and sharing this information with businesses. Just this week we have written to businesses to help them understand what the recent announcements mean. We are working with WECA to ensure the hospitality and cultural sectors are given the consideration they deserve in our regional recovery plans. And we will continue to explore how we can offer council-owned spaces to businesses to allow them to facilitate social distancing safely, particularly over the winter.

On the curfew, we are monitoring the impact this appears to be having, along with colleagues in public health and Avon and Somerset Police. While we fully appreciate the intention behind this measure, we are concerned about the unintended consequences. Enforced 10pm closures are pushing people out of controlled, regulated, Covid secure environments into uncontrolled private social spaces.  In addition, the curfew has the potential to create a crowding risk at 10pm as people leave venues. We will share these reflections with government and ask that they keep the measure under review. We are also keen to see the evidence that supports the measure.

I recognise how difficult the coming months will be and would urge businesses to continue to engage with us. If there was ever a time where we all needed to work together, that time is now. I remain committed to representing the needs of the sector in whatever way I can, and am in awe of the resilience displayed this year. I know I’m not alone in longing to be back enjoying music, theatre, or even just drinks with friends, as soon as the situation allows.

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