Back then, the term ‘night-time economy’ hadn’t been invented and we simply called it ‘clubland’.
In some ways, the issues facing managers now are not fundamentally different from what they were back then. People came into the city centre looking to have a good time; we had to deal with drunkenness, drug use and sometimes, violence. People weren’t different just because we were operating under a different licensing regime.
The ‘people problems’ haven’t changed, but the economic and legal environment has. The night-time economy is the focus for all our critics. Police commissioners, politicians — local and national — and, above all, the media all seek to keep the narrative of ‘Booze Britain’ going.
Operating late-night premises has become somewhat ‘political’. Police budgets have been cut by 20%; the ‘thin blue line’ is getting thinner, and the reduction in police resources increasingly affects their attitude to operators. Some police forces regard late-night drinking as a cost burden they could do without, and they are making use of some Draconian new powers that can result in the immediate closure of licensed premises.
I illustrated this in a presentation I gave at the PMA500 event in Nottingham. Last year, in Liverpool, we saw three premises raided in quick succession as a result of unbridled drug use. The police used powers under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act to obtain immediate closure notices, followed by a closure order and premises licence reviews. The usual process of instigating a premises licence review was seen as too cumbersome.
The drugs issue will always be a stick that can be used to beat the late-night sector. The British Drugs Survey tells us that 50% of 16 to 34-year-olds have used illegal drugs and 16% of all users use mostly in the night-time economy. That equates to more than two million people having used, mostly at weekends, when they go out. This creates a major control issue for operators and an easy target for police who want to dramatise their resource problems and close down premises.
Do not slip into a kind of complacent belief that drugs are part of the landscape and acceptable. They aren’t. While police understand that licensees can’t solve the drugs problem, they do expect you to make an effort to control it through a policy of searching, patrolling the premises, and regularly visiting areas where drug use might happen.
If you don’t, you make yourself an easy target.