The government has wilfully ignored a ticking time-bomb that will compromise public safety and our sector’s ability to recover from the devastation of Covid.

We all know this has been a tough year for the night time economy. The sheer devastation of closure upon closure cannot begin to be shared in just a short article. But as the government is on course to reopen venues this month, there is an unnerving feeling among those in the industry that something has yet to be addressed: we are short of thousands upon thousands of security staff.

To be sure, venues and operators are desperate to welcome customers. Our sector has been closed for well over a year and in such difficult conditions, we have lost a wealth of businesses and talent. Clinging on to the hope of survival, reopening will be one of the final hurdles for the businesses that remain. Yet to operate a safe venue, businesses must have the necessary security personnel in place.

Back in March, I was alarmed to discover that six in ten door supervisor positions for nightclubs, pubs, festivals, and live events were at risk of being unfilled. The sector has been effectively closed for the best part of 16 months, and security staff have sought more stable sources of income during this time. Many have opted to use their door supervisor licenses in other static security roles, such as in retail or Covid-testing centres; others have left the security industry altogether.

Without the security personnel in place, businesses cannot respond appropriately to the public health risk

Because of the pandemic, on the other hand, the demand for security personnel has proliferated. Events and festivals, once spread out over several months in the year, are anxious to operate in a shortened summer season. At the same time, there has been an increased need to adhere to public health requirements, social distancing, and other Covid-19 restrictions. The need for additional crowd management resource has, in turn, increased.

What we are left with is the tattered remains of a decimated sector, paired with heightened consumer demand and with businesses starved of trade. Without the required staffing levels, the sector cannot meet the demand it desperately needs to survive. Without the security personnel in place, businesses cannot meet their licensing conditions, nor respond appropriately to the public health risk.

This is not just an industry matter. Door licenses are regulated by the Security Industry Authority (SIA), which sits in the remit of the Home Office. When this looming crisis became apparent, I, alongside others in the industry, wrote to the government to warn of the issue. We sat on Zoom calls, exchanged numerous emails, and shared startling reports of national operators struggling to fill just half of door security posts following the third step of the roadmap in May.

In response, the Home Office has denied the problem. In answer to a written question, Minister Kit Malthouse noted there are “record numbers” of supervisors on the register of SIA license holders. Here, the government completely misses the point: the question is not one of license numbers but instead license usage and, specifically, usage within the night time economy. Failing to recognise this important nuance, the government has wilfully ignored a ticking time-bomb that will compromise public safety and our sector’s ability to recover from a time of devastation. By focusing on the rhetoric of reopening, the government has refused to acknowledge or consider the practicalities of opening a venue after a year of enforced closure, lacking the foresight and apparent motivation to pre-empt ensuing crisis.

We can no longer afford this complacency. Ministers must listen when we say there is an issue and government must be proactive in reaching solutions – whether that be funding training initiatives, streamlining new training requirements, or tackling shortages through legislation. Security shortages may well be the coup de grace for our industry; for the public, they’re an accident waiting to happen.

Michael Kill is the Chief Executive of the Night Time Industries Association and Spokesperson for the UK Door Security Association.

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