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Nightclubs Should Pay

Nightclub RevellersThis is a report that was originally prepared for the Home Office. It was subsequently presented to the Fylde Police and Community Together (PACT) meeting which allows the public to have a say in policing policy in Fylde. The principle was picked up by Government and announced as a policy initiative, and it was well received by the Police. County Councillor Bernard Whittle  took it forward to the Police Authority meeting where the principle was approved.


NIGHT TIME DISORDER

Purpose of the report 
To propose a new funding direction for tackling the problems of public nuisance, disorder and criminality associated with 'the night time economy'.

Introduction 
As part of an effort to regenerate their centres, towns throughout the UK have encouraged the creation of a 'night time economy'. In principle, this uses nightclubs and similar venues open (typically) until 2.00 am or later, to help supplement or replace traditional retail income streams.

An unwanted side effect of this move has been a growing problem of lawlessness, loutish behaviour and criminal damage. It has engendered disrespect for others; shattered the quiet enjoyment of residents, and created an additional problem for our police.

In recent years, Blackpool has developed a significant night time economy. This - and its consequential problems - has spread to an alarming extent in Poulton, and now reached St Annes. Throughout the Fylde, and indeed elsewhere in the UK, residents are beginning to oppose the emanations of this culture.

The Problem 
Part of the difficulty is that the Borough Council grants entertainmentlicenses (and will soon grant liquor licenses). They may be swayed to support an application for a license by economic development considerations. But the side effects (and the public order costs) of their decision must be met by the police, who may only offer the Council advice as to whether the application for a licence should be approved, or whether they have the resources to deal with the consequences of an approval.

I have personally heard such advice rejected out of hand by a member of Fylde's former licensing committee who, in criticising the advice of the Police representative to refuse an application, expressed the view that it should be approved because the Council was trying to regenerate the Town Centre, and it was up to the police to find the resources to police the town.

With such views being openly expressed, it is unlikely that the Borough Council can be relied upon to restore peace and quiet to our community.

Neither can the owners of the clubs, whose chief interest is maximising their income. My experience of their view at Licensing Application hearings is that they claim they have no responsibility for the actions of, or jurisdiction over, patrons who have left their premises.

So it falls to the police - whose resources are already stretched.

With insufficient officers on duty to fully cope with the numbers being disgorged as night clubs and night time entertainment closes, (for example, a new venue is shortly to open in St Annes that will empty up to another 700 people in the town centre in the small hours) in effect, the best the Police can do with the resources currently available to them is to 'keep the lid' on the problem.

But of course this is not the end of the matter. The cost actually falls to us as the community; the general council taxpayer picks up the bill for the cost of policing.

What I am proposing in this report, is a new direction, a move to make the cause of the nuisance pay for its own regulation.

Meeting the Cost 
Additional responsibilities given to the police in recent times are causing funding problems.

Increasingly, they are unable to meet the expectations of the community with the resources they raise. As recently as last month, faced with the need for a 14% increase in police council tax to meet a funding shortfall of £250m for 2004/5, the Prime Minister was urged to hold a review of police funding. A meeting has been arranged to discuss these funding problems with Government.

Whilst this is welcome, one is temped to ask why the community at large should have to pay for the policing that arises from business in pursuit of its profit. I make the case here for such costs to be borne by the business whose activity results in the need for that additional policing.

Precedent 
There is precedent for the direction I propose. The arrangements to regulate public disorder associated with football supporters offer an established principle, and even a process.

A Football Club 
Some patrons or members of a football club are known - on occasion - to cause public nuisance, disorder, criminal damage, vandalism and assault after leaving the premises.

Partly for the security of the users themselves, but mostly for the security of residents and businesses not involved in football, policing is provided (as necessary) to escort users from their points of arrival to the venue, to control behaviour within the venue, and for their return to the point of departure. 

Whilst some of this cost is chargeable to the council tax, significant sums must, by statute, be met by the originator of the problem - the football club itself. They have to pay for at least some of the policing that is deemed necessary. This cost is reflected in higher admission charges and other income streams from supporters. So in the end, as with the rather elegant strategy adopted with pollution, it is the 'polluter' who pays.

A Night Club 
Some patrons or members of a night club may cause public nuisance, disorder, criminal damage, vandalism and assault after leaving the premises.

The problem caused by such users may be less obvious than football in terms of scale and numbers, but it is more frequent, and no less disturbing to residents. In some respects it is worse than football because it takes place at a time when it disturbs most people from their sleep, and their entitlement to 'quiet enjoyment' of life as provided for in Human Rights legislation.

The culture of nightclubs further aggravates the problem by spawning late-opening fast food outlets - sometimes close to residential areas. These shops spread and feed the problem of noise, nuisance, disorder and sometimes crime.

The other main difference I draw between football clubs and nightclubs is that for nightclubs, the costs of policing the nuisance, disorder and crime arising as a result of their activity has to be met by the taxpayer.

This is the most bitter part of the pill. Residents, whose sleep is disturbed in the early hours of the morning, who have to clean up the fast food containers dropped on the pavement or in gardens, and who have to suffer the unpleasantness that follows those unable to contain bodily functions when stomach or bladder contents are left en-route, have to pay for the cost of the policing and the municipal cleaning of our public areas.

In comparison with football clubs, where the polluter pays a significant part of the cost - residents are, in effect, required to subsidise the very businesses and users that cause the problem for them.

This is shown in even more stark relief when we see our police being unable to support genuine community-building events such as local carnivals and galas as the police seek to reduce their operational costs.

Contrast this position with the operational costs for the Police as they nightly manage the outpouring of nightclubs, then shepherd people home in the small hours and, in effect, support the nightclub owner in his business venture at our expense.

It is little short of a disgrace.

Conclusion 
I see absolutely no reason why a night club should not meet the costs of providing the policing that the Chief Constable deems necessary to ensure public order and quiet enjoyment for local residents. This should be part of its normal business overhead costs in just the same way that a football club is required to meet the police costs to prevent public disorder and nuisance arising from its business activities. This applies not only within and adjacent to its premises, but also in shepherding devotees in transit on their way home.

If the night clubs in a town pose no problem of nuisance or public order, police resources will be scant or not needed, and costs would be low or not incurred. It is a measured and elegant solution, and I believe it has much to commend it.

I believe the legislation enabling charging for policing the consequences of football matches is the Police Act 1964, section 15, but if it requires other legislation, then the call for that legislation has to start somewhere, and here seems as good a place as any.

When this matter was raised briefly and in outline at a previous PACT meeting, the Chief Constable's representative appeared to indicate that he was not without sympathy for the proposal.

I therefore propose that:

1). The Chief Constable be asked to identify how best to separate and quantify the cost of policing these night time activities, and that he report back to this meeting with his findings.

2). That the Lancashire Police Authority ask the Home Secretary to support, and introduce if necessary, legislation that would enable the police to recover the costs of policing the adverse effects that night clubs have on the local community, in a similar manner to existing legislation covering the adverse effects of football clubs.

Dated 19 February 2004 


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