London’s nightclubs and casinos have slammed Boris Johnson’s decision to exempt them from a list of venues allowed to reopen in July as “suicidal”, and urged the government to provide financial support to prevent further redundancies in the sector.
The Prime Minister yesterday announced that pubs, bars, restaurants, hotels, theme parks, galleries and hairdressers will reopen in two weeks as the UK’s “long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end”.
But while many businesses in the hospitality sector had reason to celebrate, other companies at the heart of London’s nightlife voiced their outrage at being deemed unsafe to reopen.
Alex Proud, owner of several London nightclubs including Proud Camden, told City A.M: “The new guidelines are absolute nonsense. I’m very angry with the government — I think most of the trade is, and I think the public are being treated like children.”
“It’s wonderful Boris double speak. Today he got the whole ‘The pubs are open and it’s wonderful!’ reaction — but the rest of us are not going to be ok.”
Asked what the future for his London clubs looks like, Proud said: “My gosh this is possibly the end of our business. If you business has a large outside space you’re probably alright. If you don’t, I think you’re probably feeling suicidal at the moment.”
Simon Thomas, chief executive and chairman of London’s Hippodrome Casino, echoed Proud’s sentiments, adding that the government seemed to ignore the fact that many nightlife venues are able to comply with the new social distancing rules.
Thomas told City A.M: “I’m extremely frustrated… We can operate under two-metre distancing rules, and we can obviously operate even better with one-metre rules. We believe we have satisfied all the points required for us to reopen. It shows [the government] has fundamentally misunderstood the way that casinos operate.”
The Hippodrome Casino was opened in 2012 by then-mayor of London Boris Johnson, who described it as “yet another ringing endorsement of London as a great place to invest” and praised it for creating “hundreds of new jobs for the capital”.
Thomas said: “The casino sector is bitterly disappointed not to be included in this wave of openings and we will happily engage with the government to satisfy those points so that we can reopen as soon as we can.”
Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) chief executive Michael Dugher added that it was “inconsistent and frankly nonsensical” that casinos have been left out of the long list of hospitality venues allowed to reopen from 4 July.
“Our casino members make a huge contribution to the economy, sustaining thousands of jobs and providing large amounts of much-needed tax revenue to the Treasury,” he added.
Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) urged the government to step in to support hospitality venues forced to remain closed for the foreseeable future.
“For many of our members, including night clubs, casinos and some pubs, restaurants and bars… the nightmare of enforced closure goes on,” Kill told City A.M.
“This reinforces our urgent call for the government to commit to further immediate financial support for our sector. These excluded venues play a vital part in the cultural and civic life of our communities the length and breadth of the country.”
The night-time economy is the UK’s fifth-biggest industry, accounting for at least eight per cent of the UK’s employment and annual revenues of £66bn, according to data from the NTIA.
But Proud added that the decision to keep clubs and casinos shuttered would cause particular damage to London’s night-time economy, which represents around 40 per cent of the UK’s nightlife industry, contributing around £40bn to the British economy every year.
“London is the goose that laid the golden egg,” said Proud. “It has so much to offer, and one just starts to think: how much more do you want to damage this goose?”
London’s night-time economy directly supports 723,000 jobs — one in eight in the capital, according to the Office for National Statistics. But without any clues from the government as to when London’s casinos and nightclubs will reopen, many of these jobs will remain imperilled.
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Thomas told City A.M. that he had “hundreds of workers who are gagging to get back to work” at his Leicester Square casino, but that jobs were at stake without clarity on the issue.
“Boris’s arse so far has been saved by the sun,” added Proud. “Everyone’s in the park at the moment, so they’re not noticing what’s happening. But I hope people will start to realise that London is going to lose its magic, and I hope the government will take notice. This is a disaster for London.”