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Is the UK night-time industry dead for the foreseeable future?
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Is the UK night-time industry dead for the foreseeable future?

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Best batten down the hatches and go to bed!

Unless you are over 50 years of age you will not remember the time when British television had to stop transmitting at 10.30pm. Indeed I can hear you saying that such a move would have been unbelievable.

Indeed not. In 1974 the country was in the grips of a strike by the National Union of Mineworkers and a nasty business it was too. Coal production all but ceased; mines and power stations were picketed and those who attempted to go to work were subjected to pretty bad attacks by the pickets. At that time most of the country’s power stations were fuelled by coal so the lack of coal became a huge problem, meaning that power stations were beginning to run out.

The government, at that time under Prime Minister Edward Heath, in order to conserve fuel determined that the country’s electricity consumption had to be cut drastically and as a result the three day week was implemented. In addition to closing down industry in this way, the government decided that television stations should cease transmitting at 10.30pm to further conserve power. This, as it turned out, was not a popular move. Obviously the British people were expected to go bed – to sleep! One of the unexpected consequences was power surges at 10.30pm as everyone turned off so the Central Electricity Generating Board asked the government to stagger television turn off time by a few minutes so BBC and ITV – there were all of about three channels then – closed down alternately a few minutes later!

Moreover most of the pubs were shut as well during this period.

As a result the PM called a general election in February 1974 which returned a minority Labour government under Harold Wilson even though the Conservatives polled a majority of votes. A second election was held in October and Wilson took power with a 3 seat majority.

Does this ring any bells with you? A sense of déjà vu perhaps?

We are going through a crisis and unfortunately the night-time industry seems to embody all the problems associated with it. Loud music, dancing, drinking, singing, large crowds, lots of cuddling and other personal contact – I am not sure I can imagine a club where everyone is quietly sitting down at socially-distanced tables sipping G&T – more like supping a pint of finest ale! The industry is diametrically opposite to the requirements of disease control by its very nature.

Sad though it is, what option is there but to restrict its activities as long as spread of the disease is considered to be dangerous?

That is what the industry is faced with and no matter how much they huff and they puff, there seems little option but to keep it closed. The big issue for those businesses is how long might this shut down last? The answer to that can only be until the spread of the disease is no longer a serious issue – so when herd immunity has built up, a successful vaccine has been made or perhaps, and I suspect the least likely, a decision is taken to lift all restrictions and allow the virus to do its worst.

This then I believe is why the chancellor of the exchequer has not found any merit in continuing to give financial support to this industry; it would be supporting an industry doomed to fail in the short term and it may be one that will disappear from our lives under the new normal. It is not much consolation to say that we have been through such restrictions before, at least the over 50s amongst us but crises do not arise without consequences and at the end of the day those consequences are going to be borne by one sector of society or another.

Adrian Leopard 25-09-20

Photo Long Truong

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