What is the point of London’s night tsar?

Amy Lamé has done less than nothing to stop the decimation of pubs, clubs and bars.

Lauren Smith

Topics Politics UK

Anyone who has lived in or visited London in the past few years will know that the capital’s nightlife is not what it used to be. If you’re planning to grab some drinks in central London on a weeknight, you’d best not bother after 11pm. Planning on partying the night away in Soho’s bars and clubs? Better not miss the last Tube if you don’t want to fork out for an Uber home. Want to eat some dinner after seeing a West End musical? Hope you like McDonald’s, because not much else will be open.

London night tsar Amy Lamé, appointed by mayor Sadiq Khan to revive the fortunes of the city’s ailing nightlife, sees the situation a little differently. Last week, she published a post on LinkedIn defending all the work she has supposedly done during her eight years in the job. ‘I’m under fire’, reads the title, ‘but here’s how I’m making a difference’.

Unfortunately, Lamé doesn’t seem to be able to list many actual successes. She acknowledges that nightlife in the capital is going through a rough patch right now, but she deflects all responsibility. Instead, she shifts the blame on to the pandemic, Brexit, the cost-of-living crisis and an apparent rise in drink-spiking.

In an interview with the BBC at the weekend, she instead turned her fire on previous mayor Boris Johnson, even though he left office in 2016. When pressed on what progress she has made in boosting London’s nightlife since then, she scrambled to name a couple of clubs that she helped save from closure. Bizarrely, despite all of London’s nightlife woes, at one point, she tried to boast that the capital ‘is a truly 24-hour city’.

Is Lamé living in a parallel universe? London can hardly claim to be a 24-hour city by any metric. Only a handful of Tube lines run through the night on Fridays and Saturdays, and even those are under threat. You might have more luck getting a night bus, but many services were cut drastically during lockdown and have never returned.

As for the nightlife itself, pubs, clubs and music venues have been closing at an astonishing rate. Between 2001 and 2022, the number of pubs in the capital fell from 5,000 to 2,600. In the past three years alone, more than 1,100 bars and clubs have shut their doors. In fact, venues in London – particularly in central London – have closed at a faster rate than in most other UK cities.

Lamé is not entirely to blame for this. Her powers are limited and her role as night tsar is mostly an advisory one. But with that being the case, how can the role really justify its £117,000 per year salary?

One project that Lamé cites as a success is the Night Time Enterprise Zone programme. The programme targeted the boroughs of Bromley, Greenwich and Lambeth to ‘boost high streets after 6pm’. It has done so by providing funding for ‘new murals [to] celebrate local Portuguese speaking and LGBTQ+ communities’ in Vauxhall, night-time outdoor ‘culture trails’ in Greenwich, and a programme for raising awareness about ‘neurodiversity’ in Bromley.

Clearly, Lamé’s priorities could hardly be more at odds with what most of the public expects her to be doing – namely, to keep pubs, restaurants, bars and clubs open, ideally past sunset.

Of course, venues are facing unprecedented financial challenges, following lockdown and the energy crisis. But they are also being bogged down by stringent rules and regulations imposed by local councils. If Lamé really wants to do something about London’s dying nightlife, she could start by speaking up for venues against the relentless hostility they face from local authorities.

Tragically, iconic venues are continually at risk of having their licences revoked. By and large, the reason for this is noise complaints. In places like Soho – once a byword for the city’s vibrant nightlife scene – the local authority has been inundated with whinging complaints from residents about the bars and clubs. Bar owners in Soho have lamented that it is now ‘almost impossible’ to open after 3am due to the council’s deference to every angry letter.

The story is the same in Hackney in east London, where the popular Jago arts and culture venue was threatened with closure in 2022. A wave of complaints started after residents who moved to the area during lockdown failed to anticipate that living in the heart of a trendy neighbourhood would mean having to put up with a little late-night revelry.

Even in booming tourist hotspots, venues are having to battle it out with councils for the right to remain open late. In 2022, bakery chain Greggs became embroiled in a years-long fight with Westminster City Council over whether it should be allowed to serve hot food until 2am at its Leicester Square store. At first the council refused, fearing that Greggs would become a ‘hotspot for late-night disturbances and anti-social behaviour’. Ultimately, Greggs won the battle and revellers can now enjoy a sausage roll after a night out. But why did this become such a protracted legal battle in the first place? This is Leicester Square we are talking about – a central-London tourist attraction, where hardly anyone lives. It is hardly a quiet residential suburb.

The whole fuss demonstrated just how insanely hostile London has become to its own late-night economy. And where was the night tsar in all this? Aside from tweeting out a short congratulations to Greggs, Lamé didn’t once step in during the ordeal.

Of course, residents are entitled to complain about noise levels or anti-social behaviour, but there is a fundamental imbalance here. No sane person is going to write to the council to say they enjoyed their Friday night on the town. That means one disgruntled complaint can spoil the fun for thousands. This is precisely where a decent night tsar would come in – to speak up on behalf of venues and customers alike.

Amy Lamé has failed to stand up to this tyranny of whingers. She has done nothing to halt the tide of pub and club closures, let alone encourage new late-night venues in the capital. On her watch, London has gone from a vibrant and dynamic city to the world’s most densely populated retirement village, with an 11pm curfew. London can do so much better.

Lauren Smith is a staff writer at spiked.

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Topics Politics UK


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