Over the last week or so, as cases of Coronavirus have begun to rise, a horrible word keeps coming up in the news and elsewhere. That is: “curfew(s)”.
Already this term has become a reality for Bolton, and today in parts of Lancashire and Merseyside, where pubs, bars and restaurants are only allowed to open for takeaways until further notice – and must shut altogether between 10pm and 5am.
Newspapers have teased the nation with the prospect of even more closures. Indeed, Wednesday’s Evening Standard headline was “London curfew alert to prevent a new wave”, as this is apparently under consideration to “short-circuit” the virus.
Worse still, the public seems fine with it. One YouGov poll indicated that 69 per cent of Brits would support a 9pm (which no one has even suggested as a time!) curfew on pubs and bars.
While one sympathises with the Government – which has to make enormously difficult decisions and whose first priority is to protect people from Coronavirus – the latest curfew measures will only convince some businesses of how little Britain values its nightlife industry, which will suffer even more under the new rules.
Although there were some positive developments during Covid-19 – al fresco dining being a fantastic one – nightlife has been under strain for many years, with businesses increasingly stifled by regulatory measures (such as the Late Night Levy and Public Space Protection Orders, which I have written about before for ConservativeHome).
There’s also overzealous councils. In London, one Soho bar owner recently told me he cannot open his roof terrace – a fantastic space that would attract lots of business – because of one resident who complains about the noise (who knows why they live in Soho). “Councils always side with residents”, he told me.
(Furthermore, he suggested that some residents actively want to drive nightclubs out, as it brings up the price of their properties. But that’s a story for another day).
Big names in the sector have already made urgent statements about the threat they face due to Covid-19 measures. Sister Bliss, a musician from the band Faithless, recently warned that UK nightclubs had been “left to rot in a corner”, and 1,500 artists signed an open letter calling for more support.
While a £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund has been unveiled by the Government, there has been uncertainty about where the money will go. But given the way clubs have been ignored over the years, I would be surprised if they saw much of it. It’s just not an industry that sparks much of a concerned response from policymakers, which is a shame – as it has massive economic potential.
It even has ramifications, believe it or not, for Brexit. What hope does the country have of being “Global Britain” if it’s boring for young people to go out in? They will head to other parts of Europe, such as Barcelona and Berlin, where the party is getting started at the same time British pubs are closing. That’s why it’s so extraordinary to have curfews – as there already seem to be de facto ones in place.
Of course, recent rises in cases are troubling, and the Government no doubt sees targeting nightlife as the main way to stop Covid-19 spreading, particularly through young people. But I fear this will push the sector over the edge, with huge job losses and business closures coming soon, not least because of the uncertainty created by reopening and closing the economy repeatedly. These new rules should make us seriously question – what will there eventually be to return to?