Raising the bar

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Adam Benzine discovers why Best Bar None has become such a success story.The Grand Harbour De Vere Hotel in Southampton was the glitzy venue for...

Adam Benzine discovers why Best Bar None has become such a success story.

The Grand Harbour De Vere Hotel in Southampton was the glitzy venue for hundreds of licensees last month, as the city celebrated the successes of pubs and bars which had gone the extra mile to promote safety and good practice on their premises.

But the evening also represented another step forward for the ever expanding Best Bar None phenomenon - a sleeper success story which has grown at a remarkable pace since the turn of the century. The schemes encourage pubs and bars to meet a series of key criteria towards trading responsibly, picking out the best for recognition at annual awards.

Thousands of licensees and more than 50 towns and counties have now signed up for Best Bar None schemes, with the brand now officially endorsed by the Home Office.

Jan Brown of Greater Manchester Police's City Safe unit helped found the first Best Bar None initiative - and says the success of the scheme has been much greater than anyone could have hoped for. "It's been far, far more popular than we ever expected," she says. "We knew that other people would want to do it but the scale of the growth has been phenomenal.

"When the Manchester scheme started in 2000 we'd had a 250 per cent increase in violent crime over the previous 30 months, so it was massively needed. The reputation of the city and the industry was in a terrible state."

Similar schemes such as the Safer Bars Accreditation initiative in Essex, which highlights The Publican's Proud of Pubs Charter and was formally launched in Essex last week, have been inspired by the programme.

Heavyweight backing

The first Best Bar None awards began as the result of a collaboration between Greater Manchester Police, Manchester City Council and licensees in the city centre. After its launch, global brewer Anheuser-Busch was quick to chip in by sponsoring the scheme, and Bacardi-Martini and Diageo have also lined up behind it.

Since then, the scheme has expanded rapidly beyond Manchester's rainy skyline, with events taking off in Liverpool, Croydon, Brighton, Portsmouth, Edinburgh, Blackpool and a host of other towns and cities throughout the UK. Best Bar None schemes are currently due to launch in Dundee - the last of Scotland's major towns and cities to sign up - and Bradford.

For licensees the scheme presents an opportunity to present the trade in a favourable light, giving some much needed positive publicity to pubs and bars. It's worth remembering that no-one is forcing licensees to sign up to the scheme - this is an entirely voluntary initiative in which licensees are showing that they are capable of self-regulation.

Paul Shinar is one of the most recent winners of a Best Bar None award. His pub, the Court Jester in Southampton, won the gold award at the city's inaugural event a fortnight ago. He says one of the scheme's strengths is that it gets publicans and local police working together. "It's beneficial both ways," he says. "If you get to know them, you learn what their needs are, and they learn what yours are."

Paul adds that initiatives such as The Publican's own Proud of Pubs campaign, and the Best Bar None scheme are vital for improving the way the public perceives the licensed trade. "It's great to have a proper black tie event at a well-respected venue," says Paul. "It shows the general public that the licensed trade is run by a professional bunch of people and that they aren't just sat behind the bar all day."

Jan, who also attended the Southampton event, thinks Best Bar None schemes give the trade something to be proud of.

"There were people in that room who were so excited," she says. "They've put in so much hard work, and it was a joy to see how happy the winners were. People who win accreditation do tend to very proudly display their plaques outside their pubs."Winners and losers While Best Bar None schemes are undoubtedly a huge positive for the trade, they are no walk in the park for licensees.

In Manchester, once venues have applied to become accredited Home Office-trained specialist assessors carry out venue inspections, scrutinising first aid and health and safety provision, how venues deal with customers and handle incidents of alcohol abuse, as well as issues such as doorstaff and security training.

A third of all licensees who apply for Best Bar None accreditation in Manchester fail, though Jan is keen to emphasise that the team does everything possible to help those venues succeed next time.

She says: "We sit down with them and discuss why they failed, what the issues are and how they can improve their premises. A lot of people are surprised to find that a third of people actually fail, but it is a positive experience and our aim is always to get them accredited next time around. Some of the good practice that does go on out there is simply amazing."Spreading nationwide - and beyond

The growth of the Best Bar None phenomenon is showing no signs of slowing. The first national Best Bar None awards are being planned for the end of this year and news of the scheme has even spread across the Atlantic.

"We've been approached by authorities who are interested in launching Best Bar None in Chicago, which is hugely flattering," says Jan. "It's gaining a huge amount of momentum, and I don't think there's anyone out there who can't see the benefits of better management. This isn't something that stays still; it's a very living project and we're constantly looking for ways to improve it."

Best Bar None - the aimsThe key aims of Best Bar None are:

  • The promotion of responsible licensed trade management
  • The promotion of socially responsible drinking
  • A commitment to caring for and protecting customers
  • A commitment to reducing the potential for alcohol disorder in town centres.

For more information contact Jan Brown on 0161 856 3341 or email jan.brown@gmp.police.uk

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