We are living in times where making moral or political cases for things has become deeply unpopular. Instead, we are often told that the evidence says this or that statistics prove that. Feeling somewhat overawed with trying to convince the public about why something should be necessary simply because it is deemed important - like the police, health service or education - instead we are bombarded with statistics which aim to prove a point and by doing so somehow win an argument.
The obsession with stats-based policing has created immense strain for the types of businesses that The Night Time Industries Association, of which I am chairman, represents in Britain. While all public records demonstrate that serious crime has reduced over the last decade, the way policing has continually focussed narrowly on certain types of activity and then transformed them in to “crime stats” through the way they have insisted upon them being reported and recorded as incidents has been enormously damaging for nightlife in the UK.
While borough commanders will acknowledge and agree that crime generally is down, we are then told that more specifically there are crime “spikes” and “hotspots” around the Night Time Economy activities. Often, this can mean where mobile phones have been reported as stolen and in order to claim on the insurance, a specific venue location must be provided to the insurer. This then becomes recorded as crime, created around and at a venue. Many police licensing officers I have spoken with recognise that the bundling of phone losses is not a smart way to record crime per se and in some forces in Britain there is an active push away from “stats-driven policing”.
That is encouraging. However, the dubiously corralled variety of issues that then get conflated in to being some kind of “red flags” or reflecting “hot spots” of crime has led to enormous pressures being placed on venues up and down the country. Premises owners and operators are held ever more accountable for a variety of issues both at and outside their sites. In no other area is this true, for instance when muggings or robberies occur at shopping centres nobody (quite rightly) calls for their closure to reduce crimes. Nor with bank robberies, drug taking on public transport or jewelry heists are the businesses held accountable. However, largely due to the significant pressure that has been placed on the police - to cover more areas such as terrorism, cyber crime and pedophilia alongside experiencing 40 per cent cuts in funding - the police now openly hold venues accountable for a whole range of issues.
It is this mindset, following on from Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe’s comments some eighteen months ago when presenting to the Royal Academy and arguing that while councils make money from cubs and bars, to decrease crime there should be a closing of a large amount of them to prevent crime. So perhaps it is not that surprising that Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Laurence, the borough commander for Hackney in London, has called on the town hall to tighten up its policy when granting Temporary Event Notices (Tens) because the cash-strapped Met cannot keep up with rising costs over the party season. He went on to concede that the number of applications were down this year due to it being a weekend - but he still argued for a “sharper focus".
While comparing Hackney as “second only to Westminster” in the number of applications, Laurence misses the point that Hackney, like Westminster, is the beneficiary of enormous revenues and improved facilities due to the impact that the nightlife industries have had on the borough over the last 15 years. Indeed, Hackney Council once had a tagline “destination Dalston” to attract people using the “cool” bars and nightlife - and the results have been phenomenal. With huge tax revenues to the council from the massive surge in new apartments and housing from many who seek to locate themselves at the heart of the new, cutting edge, exciting activity as well as work there, alongside employing, particularly young people where one in four in London are currently unemployed, to business rates and a host of other multiplier effects and regeneration - in fact, nightlife prevents crime by lighting up our streets, being the eyes and ears of concerned citizens and neighbors and having professionally run spaces that lead the world and provide a platform for our next generation of cultural talent to blossom from.
There are other boroughs in London, such as Lambeth that have taken a smart and wise approach to embracing and partnering with The Night Time Economy, with the Business Improvement District, Council, Police and other stakeholders all participating together and creating win-win situations.
It is very concerning that the police feel quite so exposed. However, as with ambulances, A & E and other provisions, knee jerk reacting by blaming the public and our cultural hubs and places of business is not a solution. Indeed, being overly preoccupied with stats, has led to a noose around police forces’ necks in many instances - for instance when Theresa May in her previous role as Home Secretary chastised the police for concentrating too much on burglaries as opposed to pedophilia. The response by Sara Thornton, NPCC Chief to this issue of dwindling resources and increasing demands was to suggest that burglaries could be reported via email. This benefits nobody and diminishes both the morale of the police and the public simultaneously, while widening the gap of understanding between the two further.
We should all challenge the new cultural default position of hiding behind statistics. There are absolutely questions about how society is to resource activity. Perhaps Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes are both out of fashion today - however a robust conversation about who is to fund services, how and why , whether it is the state, local authorities, the market or a combination of all of the above, is of the utmost urgency.
We should remember too that people are convinced of things by declaring “the statistics say this” - because in fact, statistics don’t “say” anything in particular. It is what we decide to do based on the statistics that matters. That is about politics. The recent election of Donald Trump was a profound example of how in the face of technocratic bureaucracy-speak by so many mainstream politicians, the now president-elect smashed through this approach and his opponents, who have come to rely upon such devices as “the evidence proves” or “stats demonstrate” rather than having to win the argument, were floored.
Blaming much-loved activity is making a bad situation worse. We should remember the correct response of the world to the terrible tragedy at The Bataclan in Paris - that this is who we are, we socialise, we meet friends, we drink, eat and dance together and we will not allow that to be shut down or suffocated.
It is on that note that I would invite all to join for further discussions about how we move forward together in our cities and towns up and down the country to ensure that one of Britain’s most dynamic and creative industry, responsible for over 66 Billion UKP per annum, is not punished and penalized due to the very real lack of investment in policing and other areas. We have invited the public to share their views with their local councillors and MP’s by signing in at Save Nightlife.
Lets enjoy our New Year and the year ahead all together. Aiming to shoot pictures of people misbehaving last year, which went viral, demonstrated a glaring reality. We are better behaved in Britain than ever before, with almost thirty per cent of young people teetotal and welcoming visitors from around the world to share in our rich cultural activity. Lets not vilify the public and business - lets work together to consolidate all the benefits and mitigate any costs.