Real world city czars reveal hidden issues of the economy after dark

By Andy Spinoza, MD

I recently facilitated a lively discussion on the night-time economies of Manchester and London.

Held at the Alliance Manchester Business School, it reflected the seriousness with which the public authorities now take the night-time economy, once dismissed as the Cinderella of the city’s economy.

I recall the early days of this in the 90s when the city council represented the Hacienda’s position to Greater Manchester Police in its licensing problems, when the club was targeted by drugs gangs.

That made people sit up and take notice because before that, councils were always seen as killjoy bureaucrats who put compliance ahead of the bigger picture of growing a visitor and night-time base.

The two guest speakers last week were Amy Lamé, the 6 Music presenter and paid London night-time Czar appointed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, and local legend Sacha Lord, the music show promoter appointed in a voluntary unpaid role as Greater Manchester’s night-time guru.

They showed was that there is no substitute for real experience on the ground – or you could more usefully say, on the door.

Both gained their roles because of for many years, both have run clubs and shows and know the realities of how things often work in an area which still experiences cash deals, illegal drugs and low-paid workers.

So the night-time economy issues they raised were not just the familiar ones, like transport for instance – getting around from A to B in Manchester can be a major existential odyssey, while in London their bus and Tube network is the envy of the world.

Then there is the issue of city residents often in opposition to new bars and nightspots – one person’s wicked night out is another person’s anti-social night mare. Both agreed we need to find the right balance.

But more surprisingly, perhaps, what emerged from these two highly passionate, informed and articulate speakers were other, probably more hidden issues.

Amy cited how important it is for a sector of the economy often dismissed as fluff and nonsense to have a serious evidence base to inform decisions, and how London research had shown how night-time workers are lower paid than day-time workers – a turnaround from the days when ‘unsocial hours’ meant more pay, not less.

Sacha explained how long night-time hours spent in loud nightclubs being shouted at for drinks orders meant bar staff with no breaks often pursued post-work relaxation with alcohol and other substances, and how this, combined with irregular sleep, could lead to mental health issues.

And both were concerned that restaurant waiters don’t get their deserved share of the tips.

Both pledged to get these issues on the agenda of decision-makers – and because they had first-hand knowledge  of how they play out in real life, I believe it is Czars like them, who have been there and done it (and still are) who are the best-placed to give informed advice to political leaders.