Nightclubs are suffering from a growing shortage of bouncers, in the latest staffing squeeze to hit the UK’s economic recovery, with some estimates suggesting venues are having to pay security staff as much as 25% more.
The lack of security personnel comes at a time when hospitality businesses are being hit by a cocktail of rising costs and are trying to rebound from months of closures during the pandemic.
About one in five night-time and hospitality businesses had to close last month or operate on reduced hours as a result of a shortage of security staff, according to trade body the Night Time Industries Association.
However, the NTIA warned the situation had subsequently “deteriorated further”, at a time when consumer demand for nights out and dancing has been soaring following the easing of government restrictions.
Sacha Lord, the night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said “security staffing was the biggest issue” at this year’s Parklife festival, which he co-founded.
Lord said it was a struggle to hire the 1,000 security personnel required to cover the 80,000-capacity event, which took place over two days in September in Heaton Park, Manchester.
“We have always taken it for granted that you can send an email to three or four security providers and get our 900-1,000 security staff,” Lord said. “But this year we had to beg, borrow and steal from all over the country.
“We had to bus them in from north Scotland, Devon and all over. Normally it is very localised and they come from Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool.”
Lord added that the 124 security staff working at the Warehouse Project nightclub events, taking place on Friday and Saturday nights until January, are being paid about 25% more than previously, assuming the higher wage bills charged by security providers are being passed on to workers.
Hospitality businesses have been sounding the alarm over staffing shortages for the past few months since lockdown restrictions were eased, with security vacancies just the latest problem, after insufficient numbers of bar staff, chefs and other kitchen workers.
Many security workers left their jobs during the pandemic as nightclubs and late-night venues were closed, with many finding jobs elsewhere with more suitable hours.
Like much of the wider hospitality industry, the sector has also been hit by EU staff leaving the UK during the past 18 months as a result of Brexit or pandemic restrictions.
Security staff at venues are fundamental to protecting the public, the NTIA said, calling for government action. “If shortages continue to get worse, there is a very real chance it could become a threat to public safety,” said its chief executive, Michael Kill.
“Like in other sectors currently seeing shortages, this is a long-term issue and decline in security resources can be tracked back at least three years.
“There are steps the government can take to ease the problem, whether that be funding training initiatives, streamlining new training requirements, or tackling shortages through legislation – and I would also like to see them revisit the issue of temporary visas to assuage the crisis.”
The UK’s largest nightclub operator, Rekom UK, and bar chain Revolution have also reported suffering from a shortage of bouncers.
Peter Marks, the chief executive of Rekom UK, which runs venues including Pryzm in Birmingham and Cardiff and Atik in Aberdeen and Hull, said the problem had been “building slowly but has become so much worse since the pandemic”.
The latest staffing squeeze comes as hospitality venues are being hit by soaring costs, including higher energy bills, which have already led to an estimated 10% increase in costs, according to Lord.
The NTIA estimates that almost 90,000 jobs have been lost in the UK’s night-time cultural economy since the pandemic began, in a sector which was valued at being worth £36bn, or 1.6% of GDP, in 2019.
Hospitality and tourism bosses have pleaded with the government to permanently reduce the VAT rate for their sector in the forthcoming budget to help safeguard thousands of jobs.
The tax’s rate for pubs, restaurants, holiday accommodation and admission to certain attractions was temporarily cut to 5% in 2020, but raised to 12.5% at the start of October, and is due to return to the pre-pandemic 20% level next April.