Last week it was announced plain clothes police officers will patrol areas around clubs and bars, identifying predatory and suspicious offenders, as part of the government's ‘Project Vigilant'. The new measures are a response to concerns over women's safety following the death of Sarah Everard.
The Safer Streets fund, which funds lighting and CCTV, will also be doubled to £45m and policing minister Kit Malthouse will hold a summit in the coming weeks with police and representatives from the night-time economy on preparations to protect women as the sector reopens.
While some operators welcomed any measures that could improve safety for female guests and staff, others were less convinced by the announcement, which targets a sector that already has multiple schemes including Best Bar None, the Women's Night Safety Charter, Pub Watch, Drinkaware and Ask for Angela.
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said the "considerable sums" businesses have invested into security and surveillance "must be matched" by resources on the streets from police and other civic bodies, adding that it was "critical" all stakeholders were involved in making streets safer.
Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night-Time Industries Association (NTIA), said efforts to protect women and vulnerable people "must be tackled together as a society" in collaboration with businesses, local authorities and communities.
"The announcement of additional funding is welcomed," he said. "We feel however, that as our businesses are already heavily regulated, coupled with good working relationships with key stakeholders, authorities and the police, this additional resource would be better utilised dealing with the broader societal issues, rather than focusing on licensed environments that are already highly regulated."
Bryony Beynon, managing director of the Good Night Out Campaign, described the announcement as "a distraction from the bigger issue at hand". The campaign, which has worked with frontline staff in the hospitality and night-time economy since 2014, helps nightlife spaces and organisations to better understand, respond to and prevent sexual harassment and assault through specialist training, policy support and an accreditation programme.
"We can definitely step up and there are things we need to do [as an industry], but we also need to do this as a whole society and not just focus on any one industry," she said.
We need to do this as a whole society and not just focus on any one industry
In the year ending March 2020, female homicide victims were more commonly killed by a partner, ex-partner or family member, and 78% were killed in a house.
To support the industry in creating safer spaces for women, she suggested alternatives such as funding for training and education, as well as removing sexual offence reports as an automatic trigger for premises licence reviews. She criticised the latter as creating a "perverse disincentive" to support those wishing to report an incident.
Beynon also highlighted the importance of creating a workplace culture where staff feel they can speak out and get support both for guests and themselves. A Unite survey in 2018 found that 89% of hospitality workers said they had experienced one or more incidents of sexual harassment in their working life.
"Often when we deliver training, female members of staff in particular will say to us, ‘that's the first time that I've ever had the opportunity to speak up about the level of harassment I experience in the course of my job in front of my manager'," she said.
A collective effort
Deano Moncrieffe, owner of Hacha bar in London's Dalston, said conversations around staff and guest safety need to be happening now to ensure measures are in place by the time the sector reopens.
"What we can't do is feel that we've ticked all the boxes if we have a brief conversation with our staff. It has to be an ongoing thing," he said.
What we can't do is feel that we've ticked all the boxes if we have a brief conversation with our staff. It has to be an ongoing thing
At Hacha, staff are encouraged to ensure their colleagues do not lock up alone and Moncrieffe will pay for taxis. However, he also said the issue needs to be a collective effort, with venues and local authorities working together. He suggested this could include continuing to take guests' details post-Covid or creating a community where venues can flag concerns to neighbouring businesses.
Mike Edwards, operations director of northwest-based Pub Invest Group, agreed that "as a community, we have a collective responsibility to work to help make women feel safer, whether they're out alone or as part of a group".
He added: "We are expected to invest heavily in security costs at our venues, whether that be additional staffing, improved CCTV or tighter entry controls, so it is always welcome news to see the authorities investing in the same."
Meanwhile, Rob Pitcher, chief executive of Revolution Bars Group, said that anything to make the streets safer was a positive thing and that general managers of individual venues were empowered to put whatever safeguards in place they felt were right for their business.
"It very much depends on the local environment. It is a key concern of ours that everyone working in and using our businesses has a safe means of travel home," he said.
More information regarding the Good Night Out Campaign can be found here.
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