The new Conservative government must act quickly to ‘stop the lights going out’ on Britain’s struggling night-time economy, a Birmingham hospitality boss has said. Lawrence Barton - who runs several city night-time venues - has set out a series of immediate recommendations to save the struggling sector.
Alarming new figures show that one-in-five nightclubs have shut since the pandemic began. Barton - who runs four top nightlife venues in Birmingham including The Nightingale Club - said the figures were ‘startling’ and warned more closures were on the horizon unless the government intervened.
With the hospitality sector struggling to bounce back after Covid, the night-time economy tsar has put forward a series of proposals for the new Tory government to keep businesses afloat. These include cuts in VAT, new measures to protect night-clubs from housing developments and the launch of a new campaign to encourage people to fill their local dancefloors.
“Covid, Brexit, inflation and a cost-of-living crisis have all served to put a boot into the night-time economy,” hospitality boss Barton said. “The night-time is not unique in facing these challenges, but it is alone in the seeming lack of response from both local and central government to tackle the problems.
“The former seems more interested in helping developers than allowing nightclub spaces. Meanwhile, with the worst of COVID-19 now behind us, the central government seems eager to absolve itself of further support for the hospitality sector.
“Clubs, pubs, bars, and restaurants play a vital role in their communities. Their approach is short-sighted and negligent.”
Barton's first recommendation is to bring back temporary VAT cuts brought in during the pandemic and to help small firms struggling with rising energy costs by introducing a cap on energy prices for commercial premises.
“Not only will this bring in customers, but it will mean we can keep our prices lower and help our customers,” he said.
“With prices soaring, the special rate of VAT the Treasury ran during the pandemic ought to be brought back – preferably at five per cent as it was in 2020 and 2021, but at the very least 12.5 per cent as it was until earlier this year.”
To deal with staffing shortages, the Home Office must add hospitality roles to the shortage occupations list to help fast-track work-ready staff into venues, Barton said. The new Home Secretary must also take a ‘firm grip’ on crime and pressure local commissioners to ‘increase patrols around night-time venues.’
To get people back into clubs, Barton has also proposed a new 'Eat Out to Help Out'-style campaign to encourage people to enjoy their local nightlife. He also wants to see new legal protections for nightclubs whose existence is threatened by new housing developments.
“With so many pubs and clubs closing, people need to be encouraged to enjoy the vibrant nightlife available to them locally. The programme should be led by the night-time hospitality sector itself - the business department ought to reach out to night-time economy leaders to get their advice and support.
“But it will be no good encouraging people back into night clubs if they’re shut. Multiple clubs, including my own, have been threatened by new housing developments. With new homes come residents who protest about having to live opposite a nightclub.
“Next follows changes to our licenses and, often, owners must shut down. In some instances, this can deprive minority communities, such as those from the LGBTQ+ community – of a space to feel safe in their identity.”
In July, a controversial new block of flats in Birmingham's Gay Village were approved despite fears they would create ‘tension’ in the area. The new development on Kent Street will be just a stone's throw away the Nightingale Club which could lose it's outdoor balconies as planners attempt to mitigate noise levels for future residents.
“Covid, Brexit, inflation and a cost-of-living crisis have all served to put a boot into the night-time economy” Lawrence Barton