Confronting a cliff-edge in support for the Night Time Economy

Today’s blog comes from Carly Heath, our recently appointed Night Time Economy Advisor.

Our city doesn’t stop at 6pm, it comes alive. The night is where communities get together and we connect with each other outside of work. Culture has a unique power to engage and connect people of all backgrounds and abilities, presenting a rare opportunity to improve diversity and equality. This has a real-life impact on career opportunities and the cultural development of a city. The night belongs to everyone, and it’s our duty to protect it. 

The Night Time Economy (NTE) is loosely defined as businesses which operate between 6pm and 6am. It is most widely known as encompassing hospitality such as pubs, bars, restaurants, and cultural spaces, such as live music venues, nightclubs and comedy clubs. Whereas these primary businesses only trade between 6pm-6am, secondary businesses trade in the daytime but predominantly make their money at night – this may include restaurants, theatres, and cinemas. However the NTE also extends to the broad spectrum of businesses operating in auxiliary to these primary and secondary businesses, such as taxis, hotels, and the supply chain, and can be expanded to include shift workers, such as those working in health and care. 

As Bristol’s new NTE advisor, my role is to represent the needs of all these groups and businesses, some of whom have begun to reopen with the further easing of restrictions from today, others remaining shut for another month at least. It’s a mammoth undertaking but I feel honoured to have the opportunity to support an industry in which I’ve spent my whole career and to advocate for Bristol’s beautifully rich after-dark culture. I have plenty of ideas for what I want to focus on in the year ahead, but forefront of my mind is supporting businesses to recover from Covid.

Although some in the NTE have found themselves overlooked when it comes to government support over the past 14 months, the sector is crucial to our country’s economy. In 2019 the UK NTE contributed £66 billion per year to the UK economy, made up 8% of the UK’s total workforce and accounted for 1.3 million jobs. 

Since the pandemic hit in March last year, we have seen significant closures across the sector. With no meaningful opportunity to trade, many businesses in commercial properties have been unable to pay rental arrears, through no fault of their own.  

The government put in a moratorium on evictions in March 2020, but this is due to expire on June 30th. The sector is facing a cliff edge should commercial landlords request full repayment of these rental debts.  

Research recently conducted by the Night Time Industries Association showed the scale of the problem across the UK: 

  • 75% of commercial tenants will be forced to look at insolvency or restructuring if further support is not provided post the rent moratorium
  • 80% of commercial tenants are still facing unproductive discussions with their landlords
  • 72% of impacted businesses are more than six months behind on payments, including over half of nightclubs, and 32% of live music venues now 9 months in arrears

In the coming weeks, my focus will be on gathering data on the situation in Bristol and working with the council and our local MPs to influence for improved support as restrictions ease and businesses begin to open their doors again. The impact of so many businesses facing financial crisis cannot be underestimated when you consider that in Bristol alone, some 91,000 people are directly or indirectly employed by the NTE – that’s 34% of the city’s workers.  

Beyond influencing, my aims include taking practical steps to support the safe reopening of night time businesses, improving the quality of the data we have on how our city works at night and seeking ways to improve training and skills opportunities for the sector. I’m only a few weeks in and the scale of the challenge is huge, but the fact that we have this role at all is a positive step towards the NTE being properly recognised and supported for its contribution in our city.

If you’d like to get in touch about the work I’m doing, you can reach me on NTEadvisor@bristol.gov.uk.

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