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Wed 13th Jul 2022 - Legal Briefing

Strikes, safeguarding and strategies by Michelle Hazlewood

As we see Boris begrudgingly leave his post, Britain faces yet more uncertainty. Recently, instability has appeared to be a reoccurring theme. At the end of last month, we witnessed the largest walkout by workers in modern times. On 23 June, as many as 50,000 RMT rail workers went on strike, which impacted the whole nation’s transport services, including the London Underground. Although no further RMT strike dates have been confirmed, resolution of the dispute seems some distance away, and there is now a threat of an RMT strike as early as 25 July, coinciding with the start date of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. To compound the problem, this week saw train drivers’ union ASLEF also vote in favour of strike action.

There has been significant coverage regarding the financial impact these rail strikes have had on the economy as a whole. Correspondingly, we are also now seeing strikes in other sectors, such as with British Airways and the bus drivers of Yorkshire and London. Of course, this has created significant financial headaches for those working in the hospitality sector. Hospitality chiefs reported that spending plummeted by 20% in towns and city centres during these strikes. However, there is further consequential fallout from these transport struggles that could be considered far more serious than loss of income.

Unfortunately, the tragic death of another young woman murdered while walking home has hit the headlines. Zara Aleena’s death in Ilford is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of those trying to make their way home after a night out, and as operators, it is of key importance that customer safety is at the forefront of our minds. In a tribute released after her death, Ms Aleena’s family said: “She walked everywhere. She put her party shoes in a bag and donned her trainers. She walked. Zara believed that a woman should be able to walk home. Now, her dreams of a family are shattered, her future brutally taken.”

The two scenarios sit together uncomfortably for all of us, but as we anticipate more travel disruption, it is important that we try to accommodate alternative options for safe routes home. For those working in hospitality, there are additional burdens both legally and morally brought forward by the four licensing objectives – in particular, public safety and prevention of crime and disorder. The question could be asked as to whether a venue has any different duties to its customers if it operates knowing many of the people attending rely on night transport services to get home. If they are unavailable, is it probable that some customers will inevitably walk home and, unfortunately, increase their vulnerability?

One simple thing that operators can do to reduce the potential dangers is providing and improving messaging to their customers regarding the lack of normal transport. Another key thing to highlight is personal awareness, reinforcing the importance of keeping your drink close and your friends closer, as well as not travelling home alone. A poster in the bathroom reminding people of what to do if they witness someone spiking a drink can also have a huge impact. While it is somewhat sad to say, although we live in a world where small acts of kindness can make so much difference, it is still worthwhile remaining wary of strangers.

Operators can use the strategies of best practice to support the licensing objectives, but here, I feel, we could improve access to such policies and ideas. We are seeing significant progress in understanding where vulnerability exists in our society – whether that be regarding gender, race, disability or, particularly looking back on Pride last month, the issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community. However, there now seems to be a plethora of different codes, policies, campaigns and headline mantras which everyone is pushing to reinforce, to try and get a grasp on this idea of safeguarding at venues. With all these options available, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know which form of best practice guidance has been adopted in which areas, and what the enforcement authorities consider to be the current strongest safeguarding advice.

Within our home city of Sheffield, we have seen town centre bars embrace the “Best Bar None” scheme, which has been awarded Purple Flag status. The scheme was originally piloted in Manchester back in 2003, covering a range of more general recommendations including a focus on safety, relationships with authorities and improving overall standards in the industry. We have seen significant countrywide adoption of “Ask for Angela”, a concept that allows customers to reach out to staff to alert them that they may require some assistance, typically regarding harassment. However, in the last month, we have also seen the rise of an additional scheme in South Yorkshire named “No More – Stand with Us”, which is a campaign trying to stamp out street harassment. Recently, the British Beer and Pub Association launched the #OpenToAll charter, which encourages businesses from the brewing and pub sector to ensure a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

There is, without doubt, a mountain of strong ideas and concepts being put forward by these campaigns to try to improve our commitments to the licensing objectives, but an increasing number of these voices can lead to confusion and lack of clarity. Operators may find it quite difficult to navigate this many options, and equally, customers may not have a full understanding of what these campaigns are standing for due to the overwhelming variety. It is also important to note the geographical discrepancies relating to the quality of the information available, or indeed just what particular strategies are being used in the area. We are seeking coordination between businesses within London boroughs, and it could be that we see the equivalent appear in the Greater Manchester area under Sasha Lord, the night time economy advisor for the city. 

Paul Scully was previously appointed secretary of state in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (which covers hospitality), but after a ministerial reshuffle, he has now taken on the role of minister of state at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. His former role has now been filled by Jane Hunt. Despite the appeal of a fresh face, this is still, unfortunately, such a bloated position that it might not provide the industry with the support it truly needs. Exploring other options for authoritative industry figures could be a solution.

Interestingly, central government has considered the benefit of having a cabinet minister assigned to dealing with the cost of living, and we have seen David Butress, founder of Just Eat, step up to the mark as the newly formed tsar. Perhaps under new leadership, we could see the introduction of a similar position in government for hospitality. This figure could provide the sector with central coordination of best practice strategies, as well as representing hospitality in its successes and struggles going forward. We hope that whoever is announced as the new prime minister understands the value the hospitality sector has to offer, and is willing to fully support the industry in its endeavours. Let us hope this is an opportunity for greater appreciation and engagement. 
Michelle Hazlewood is a partner at John Gaunt & Partners

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