Lack of government support amid latest COVID surge creating a “cataclysmic Christmas” for night-time sector


December 21, 2021

The live entertainment and night-time sectors continue to demand more clarity and support from the UK government as the latest COVID surge continues. This follows a statement from Prime Minister ‘Boris’ Johnson to the effect that no new COVID measures are being introduced right now, but nothing is being “ruled out” as data about the omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to be analysed. Meanwhile, a new survey suggests half of all night-time businesses may have to cut around half of their workforce unless new financial support is made available.

Speculation continues that the UK government will introduce a full-on lockdown in England shortly after Christmas, even though Johnson has so far resisted more extreme measures to restrict the spread of the omicron variant, insisting that more data is required first. While it seems unlikely any new restrictions will now be put in place before Christmas Day itself, that doesn’t help clubs, venues and promoters planning events between Christmas and New Year, or into early January, who face very difficult decisions about if and when to cancel.

And, of course, even if no new restrictions are introduced post-Christmas, there remain plenty of other challenges. With government messaging continuing to suggest people should stop socialising in large groups, even if New Year festivities are allowed to go ahead, it’s not clear how many customers will actually show up. Plus, with COVID cases surging, plenty of clubs, venues and other hospitality businesses may be forced to close due to staff shortages.

With all that in mind, reps for the live entertainment and night-time sectors insist financial support is urgently required, whatever decisions Johnson et al make about new COVID restrictions next week. So far the UK government has given a vague commitment to support businesses affected by the latest COVID surge, but no specifics of what that support might be.

And many argue that ministers are using the fact they are not actually instigated a formal lockdown to avoid having to make firm commitments of financial support, even though they have created a quasi or pseudo-lockdown across the country.

Greg Parmley, CEO of live music trade group LIVE, said yesterday: “Today’s government announcement, that they will keep data under review while telling the public to ‘be cautious’, is merely an excuse to withhold desperately needed financial support as sectors like live music and entertainment buckle under the weight of the latest COVID wave”.

“In addition”, he added, “there are businesses in the live music industry that are faced with huge decisions in the next 48 hours about whether to mount expensive shows for just after Christmas and New Year’s Eve, caught in a catch-22 of losing money if they pull them now or risking even more by going ahead – only to find the government closes all activity later”.

“We need guidance and clarity now so that businesses can make the best decisions possible without putting at risk their tentative recovery”, he concluded.

The Night Time Industries Association, meanwhile, has published results of its latest survey of its membership of night-time businesses. According to that survey, on average night time businesses “have lost £46,000 per unit in lost sales and cancellations during the festive period” as a result of the latest COVID surge. And those clubs and venues now obliged to check COVID Passports at the door have witnessed “over a 40% drop in footfall”.

All of this, NTIA said yesterday, has taken the entire sector back to the brink. “Half of all businesses in the night time economy will have to cut over half of jobs in their workforce if the government does not provide commensurate financial support”, the trade body added.

NITA CEO, Michael Kill, also stated: “It really is a chilling prospect to see so many venues in our sector left to bleed, with a lockdown in everything but name and absolutely no recognition of this from the government. These venues have faced over 20 months of financial hardship and the Christmas trade period was integral to keeping those surviving businesses afloat in the upcoming year”.

“If further restrictions are to be implemented, the Chancellor must step in and recognise the huge damage that waves of cancellations, driven by mixed government messaging, resource intensive COVID protocols and costly restrictions actually have”, he went on.

“The government have had 20 months to learn how our sector operates; it is beggars belief we stand here again, as if back in March 2020, imploring the government to listen to us, to understand how businesses work and to realise that inaction is a death sentence for our industry. It really is a cataclysmic Christmas”.

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