Night Lives

5. Barriers and Solutions



This chapter details the major perceived barriers to implementation that stakeholders raised in interviews for the initiatives detailed in Chapter 4, along with solutions. These solutions were formulated following discussions with stakeholders and experts in the NTE, as well as with the core interviewees. It is suggested that successful and effective implementation of the initiatives requires a clear understanding of the initiatives themselves and their purpose, an understanding of their wider impact in the NTE, an appreciation for the NTE, and a commitment to partnership working across all stakeholder groups.


Barrier: Licensing Concerns

All licensed premises in the UK are required to fulfil the Licensing Objectives stated in the Licensing Act 2003.1 These are to promote:

  • The prevention of crime and disorder
  • Public safety
  • The prevention of public nuisance
  • The protection of children from harm

Additionally, in Scotland there is a fifth licensing objective:2

  • Protecting and improving public health

Any initiative introduced to reduce drug-related harm would have to ensure that it supports these objectives. A concern raised by interviewees related to the objective to prevent crime and disorder in particular, as there was a fear that any initiative that could be interpreted as condoning drug possession, inciting someone to enter a licensed premise while in possession of drugs, or use drugs in a licensed premises, could be seen to be failing to uphold this objective.

In particular, interviewees noted the disparity between the purpose of the Licensing Act and the manner in which it may be used by police and local authorities. While the purpose of the Act is permissive – to encourage safety and best practice in licensed venues – in practice, the Licensing Act may be used censoriously by councils or police to penalise or close venues that are deemed undesirable. Consequently, it is important that the introduction of, or support for, any new initiatives by a licensed venue does not weaken its ability to uphold all of the licensing objectives.


Solution: Better Fulfilling Licensing Objectives

Typically, it has been reasoned that most measures to reduce drug-related harm in licensed venues fulfil licensing objectives through creating a trade-off between the objective to promote public safety (and health in Scotland) and the objective to prevent crime and disorder. For example, it might be reasoned that a welfare area in a venue better supports public health and safety by providing a supervised area for customers experiencing acute harms from alcohol and drug use, at the expense of failing to prevent crime and disorder, as customers accessing welfare areas may be in possession of drugs, or may have carried drugs onto the premises. A licensing officer may either deem that supporting public health and safety is more important than preventing crime in this instance, or that improvements to public health and safety far outweigh any failing in the prevention of crime.

However, this ‘trade-off’ reasoning fails to take into account the wider impact on other services from a harm reduction initiative, in particular the impact on security staff and police in the NTE. This is particularly important when considering the initiatives proposed in this report, given that one of the primary benefits of all four initiatives is to reduce the workload of police and security staff. The initiatives achieve this through reducing poor drug use practices and the resulting drug-related harm, meaning that less police and security staff time is spent dealing with people who have consumed drugs, and through allowing police and security to focus their efforts on the most serious crimes that might be committed in the NTE, such as drug dealing, violent behaviour, sexual assault and theft.

By taking into account the role of these initiatives in reducing and refocussing the workload of police and security staff, their ability to uphold the licensing objective of prevention of crime and disorder can be viewed in a different light. Rather than failing to prevent crime, by enabling police and security staff in the NTE to work more effectively, these initiatives actively prevent crime and disorder in the NTE.

The immediate effects of these initiatives on public health and safety are more self-evident: positively changing the behaviour of people who would otherwise engage in risky drug-related practices inevitably has a positive impact on the health, safety and security of individuals. Looking at their wider impact on the workload of emergency health services and welfare staff in the NTE, this also reflects favourably. By ensuring that fewer people require on-site or off-site welfare support or emergency medical attention due to the effects of drug consumption, these initiatives allow support services to conduct their jobs more effectively and efficiently, and so better promoting public health and safety.

When evaluating the ability of the initiatives detailed in this report to uphold the objectives of the Licensing Act, only factoring in their immediate consequences regarding promoting public health and safety, and preventing crime and disorder creates an incomplete picture. Their wider positive impacts on staff and emergency services in the NTE clearly shows that any licensed venue that implements or supports them is strengthening its ability to uphold the licensing objectives. Any venue wanting to implement or support them should communicate this to its licensing officer and other stakeholders that may have licensing concerns.


Barrier: Legal Concerns

In addition to concerns regarding licensing, an obvious concern for both venues and councils looking to introduce measures to reduce drug-related harm is that any measure they introduce does not itself break the law or contravene guidance from central government.


Solution: Ensuring Best Practice

All the initiatives proposed in this report are legally compliant when implemented correctly. Any initiative that is introduced must ensure that it does not encourage or assist drug use, and in the case of drug safety testing, that other conditions are met, such as not returning samples to service users, and that the local police are in support of the initiative. This can be made explicit in the form of a memorandum of understanding with the local police and other stakeholders.

Consequently, it is important that any initiative is delivered adhering to best practice, to ensure that no laws are inadvertently being broken. With the exception of drug training for event staff, for which there currently exists accredited courses (such as The Loop’s), best practice guidelines do not currently exist for the initiatives in this report, and so implementation of any initiatives should be conducted with the assistance of trained and experienced professionals with expert knowledge in how to reduce drug-related harm and the legal requirements for doing so. Best practice guidelines can then be developed alongside the implementation of initiatives.


Barrier: Lack of Understanding and Awareness of Drug-Related Harm in the NTE

While all the stakeholders interviewed for this report were aware of the challenges posed by drug use in the NTE, and the need to reduce drug-related harm, a key concern raised was the variable levels of knowledge of many stakeholders in local government and policing. While many licensing committees and officers are more familiar with the impact of alcohol-related harm in the NTE, some councillors will be unfamiliar with these environments, the realities of consumption patterns within them, and how best to counter the resulting harms. Additionally, stakeholders’ moral concerns about drug use may impact on their willingness to consider the realities of reducing drug-related harm, and so the practicality of ‘zero tolerance’ approaches may need to be challenged.

Related to this, some councillors and police may undervalue the NTE in terms of its social, economic and cultural value, either because they are primarily exposed to its most burdensome and unpleasant aspects, or because they have little interaction with it in their daily lives. For example, one interviewee reported the example of a police force in a mid-sized town that allegedly had an informal policy of attempting to close down major clubs and bars in the town centre, perceiving then as nothing other than a nuisance and a drain on resources. Finally, associated with a lack of understanding of drug-related harm, many stakeholders may be unaware of the initiatives detailed in this report which can be implemented to reduce drug-related harm in the NTE, or may be unclear on the details of their operation.


Solution: Bridging Gaps in Understanding and Awareness

Leading figures in an area’s local night time industry can play a vital role in communicating the value of the NTE and the challenges it faces. The increasing adoption of NTE strategies by local authorities is evidence of their growing understanding of the need to support and manage their local NTE, rather than merely contain and tolerate it.

When a new chain pub or bar enters an area, a typical policy of the management is to liaise with the local licensing officer and council representatives at the earliest possible opportunity to create an active dialogue, through which a rapport between the license holders and the authorities may be maintained, and good will can be demonstrated. Once this has been established, challenging conversations about the realities of alcohol consumption in the NTE are made possible and venues can manage expectations, particularly regarding alcohol-related problems. Formal programmes, such as the Best Bar None scheme, are invaluable in ensuring that a positive dialogue is maintained between industry and other stakeholders, and that licensing standards are being adhered to.

Whereas many stakeholders can relate to their own personal experiences of alcohol consumption when considering the challenges faced by licensed venues, the experiences of management and customers at venues that are likely to see higher levels of drug use may be harder for councillors to understand. Managers and owners of such venues should make increased efforts to engage with local authorities and police representatives, for example by arranging occasions where representatives can visit the venue and be given an explanation of the measures being taken to reduce alcohol and drug-related harm. Several large venues already arrange stakeholder visits to help maintain positive relationships with authorities, with the Warehouse Project in Manchester being a notable example. Furthermore, good will can be demonstrated by night time venues where higher rates of drug use are likely to occur by their active support for independent harm reduction organisations and by their willingness to implement other initiatives to reduce drug-related harm.

A central aim of this report is to draw attention to the reasons why initiatives to reduce drug-related harm are needed, and to provide a guide to the four initiatives it recommends. Any stakeholder wishing to implement one or more of the initiatives in their area should ensure that they have a good understanding of the aims, operation, and direct and indirect effects of these initiatives, and use this report to help educate other stakeholders. Additionally, The Loop is experienced in engaging with a wide range of stakeholders and its help and advice can be sought by anyone interested in the feasibility of introducing these initiatives in their area.


Barrier: Being Seen to be Doing Something

A concern raised by many interviewees was the need for both police and local authorities to ‘be seen to be doing something’ to combat drug use. Typically, this manifests itself in enforcement-led approaches such as police and security operations where venues or members of the public entering venues are swabbed to test for the presence of drugs, are searched and sniffed by drug detection dogs, and subject to ‘crackdowns’ where there is a brief but concerted effort to target low-level dealing and possession. Such thinking can make a change of approach more difficult, carrying fears that halting an enforcement-led approach may be seen as ‘going soft on drugs’, and attract negative media attention.

Local and national media outlets can use leverage to promote the image of a police force or council as ‘tough on drugs’. Such public relations exercises or ‘symbolic policing’,3 while serving the purpose of promoting this image, do little to reduce drug-related harm, as they are largely ineffective at tackling drug supply or use. Additionally, they may reinforce negative associations of drug use in the NTE amongst the wider public and may even exacerbate harm, for example through binge pre-loading with alcohol and drugs before entry to licensed premises to save money, evade detection and ensure entry.

Similarly, approaches that are sympathetic to the concerns of people who use drugs could be seen as unpopular with the wider public unless presented as potentially beneficial to the wider community as well. Councils and police may fear media accusations that resources spent on reducing drug-related harm are being spent on an ‘undeserving’ demographic, as club drug users may be represented as hedonistic and irresponsible. Any venue attempting to implement the initiatives proposed in this report could face greater difficulty if the local authority or police force has adopted a ‘tough on drugs’ approach or has these media concerns.

One final concern, expressed by police, local authorities and public health interviewees, was that support for initiatives detailed in this report could be misinterpreted as condoning drug use.


Solution: Communicating Positive Action

The drive for councils and police to ‘be seen to be doing something’ cannot be avoided. However, rather than seeing this as an impediment to the implementation of new initiatives, it can be utilised and channelled to enable their implementation. By creating a narrative that implementing these initiatives is more effective at countering drug use and the harms of drug use, and ensuring that this narrative is communicated effectively to the public, councils and police can still maintain the public image that they are “doing something” to tackle the issue. Adopting this approach also fits in with the growing move towards evidence-based policing across the UK.4

It is important for proponents to emphasise that measures to reduce drug-related harm in the NTE benefit the whole community, as they make the NTE safer for everyone and ease the burden on emergency services, rather than simply being an extra drain on resources for the sole benefit of people who use club drugs.

The support of local and national media is vital in ensuring that this narrative is communicated effectively. Gaining media support early on in the process of proposing and implementing an initiative, impressing upon them its benefit for the whole community, and the role of all stakeholders involved, is vital for creating necessary momentum and public support for an initiative. Media support also helps to ease concerns among stakeholders about reputational damage, and how new initiatives will be perceived.

Media support is also important in mitigating public concerns that support for these initiatives in some way condones drug use. Alongside ensuring initiatives are implemented with a commitment to best practice, stakeholders should work closely with the media to communicate the message that these initiatives reduce drug-related harm and drug use. All stakeholders should be prepared to counter the criticism that initiatives to reduce drug-related harm condones drug use, as despite being incorrect, it is a common criticism, particularly from socially conservative groups.


Barrier: Being Singled Out

A key concern for licensed venues hoping to implement any initiative to reduce drug-related harm is that, in doing so, they could be unintentionally singling themselves out to be targeted by police and authorities, or could be putting themselves at economic or political disadvantage while other venues benefit. These fears have prevented venues, even large and iconic ones, from wanting to be the first to adopt new initiatives, despite seeing their value in principle.


Solution: Night Time Industry Collaborations

“The only way to do this [implement initiatives] is for every venue worth its salt to club together.”

– Venue owner

Initiatives are more likely to be successfully implemented if they are supported by a number of licensed venues, or even a local or national representative body of the night time industry or licensed retailers. Regulators are far more likely to implement new initiatives with industry support, and so it falls upon the industry itself to play a leading role in their implementation.

Venues wanting to implement the initiatives in this report, and that depend heavily on partnership working with local authorities and police, may find it easier to first seek support from other local venues and industry stakeholders, to create a broader base of support for subsequent partnership working. When entering into discussions about implementation, police and local authorities should be made aware of the reasons for implementing initiatives and benefits for them, to gain their full support.


Barrier: Sufficient Resources

A concern for all publicly funded stakeholders was that they do not have sufficient resources to implement new initiatives that may require management, regulatory oversight or increased security provision.


Solution: Reallocation of Resources Following Efficiencies

Chapter 6 explores models for funding initiatives in more detail, although many options exist where funding is sourced primarily or wholly from the private sector, such as through Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) or the night time industry. Besides this, the initiatives in this report aim to reduce the demand on health and criminal justice services operating within the NTE, as well as lessening the burden on broader health services, through reducing the incidence and impact of poor drug use practices and excessive alcohol consumption. Despite this, a challenge for publicly funded stakeholders is that savings and efficiencies made by these initiatives may not match up with departments that are expending resources on them, and so where savings become apparent, budgets and resources should be adjusted to reflect areas of increased and reduced need. It is envisaged that the introduction of innovative harm reduction measures such as those contained in this report will ultimately reduce the burden on health and criminal justice services in the long-term.


Barrier: Sufficient Evidence

As the initiatives proposed in this report are new in the context of UK towns and cities, a key concern for some stakeholders may be a perceived lack of evidence for their efficacy. While the international evidence base for these initiatives is strong, (one of the reasons why this report does not dwell on the evidence base for these initiatives is because it has been well established in other countries and contexts,) the lack of UK precedent for some of these measures means that evidence specifically in a UK context is just starting to emerge. Of course, this is a chicken-and-egg scenario: UK evidence cannot exist for a new measure until that measure is piloted in the UK. However, two of the four recommendations in this report have had two summers of successful piloting at UK festivals, an intense and challenging environment in which to pilot any new initiatives, given the uncharacteristically excessive consumption by many festival-goers. Hence the authors suggest here that the initiatives pioneered in UK festivals can and should be extended to the night time environment.


Solution: Implementation of Pilot Programmes

Implementing initiatives such as drug safety testing and the 3Ps drug policy as pilot programmes in the festival environment, with a strong focus on research and evaluation, has eased concerns about a perceived lack of evidence, given that a central purpose of pilot programmes is to help build an evidence base where it is lacking. Implementation of new initiatives on a time-limited basis or subject to review after an initial period can also be more likely to get approval from stakeholders, as the potential for reputational damage is limited, while also having the added appeal of an explicit research focus as a reason for implementing the initiative.


Barrier: Bucking Regulatory Norms

A concern specifically regarding the introduction of the 3Ps drug policy relates to regulatory norms. Interviewees noted the increased difficulty of introducing a 3Ps policy at venues with permanent licences as compared to festivals with temporary event licenses, as ‘zero tolerance’ is seen by many police and local authorities as the accepted norm for venues that operate in the NTE. Interviewees noted that an understanding of how the 3Ps better fulfilled the licensing objectives would be essential for these stakeholders, but noted that even with this, there is an innate reluctance from some stakeholders to challenge an accepted norm across the NTE.


Solution: Support from Influential Bodies and Stakeholders

If influential bodies and stakeholders in the realms of public health, licensing and the night time industry can support and champion the initiatives recommended in this report it will greatly assist in shaping the decisions of local authorities to support their implementation, especially the 3Ps drug policy. For example, the support of the Royal Society for Public Health (2017) for The Loop’s Multi Agency Safety Testing at festivals and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner’s (2018) support for the expansion of The Loop’s Multi Agency Safety Testing to city centres have both assisted in their growth and wider support.


Barrier: Communication and Stakeholder Conflicts

“As a promoter, proposing that I bring a harm reductionist programme like drug testing to my event would currently be intensely difficult. Not only do I need to convince the venue owner that they should risk their (increasingly precious) music licence and admit that drug use happens on their premises, I need to gain permission from a wide range of public authorities for each event. Support from the public authorities should already be a given, and all superclubs should offer it as an option to promoters.”

– Electronic music event promoter

A fundamental barrier to the implementation of any new initiative is the need to obtain support from all stakeholders. Not only will different stakeholders have different perspectives regarding the priorities, uses and challenges of implementing a new initiative, but these may at times conflict and require compromise.


Solution: Partnership Working

Successful partnership working is one of the fundamental requisites to successful implementation of the initiatives detailed in this report. Partnership working also lies at the heart of many towns and cities’ NTE strategies, and so integrating an additional element into NTE strategies to address drug-related harm should facilitate this partnership approach. The issue of drug-related harm may be seen as challenging to deal with from a partnership approach, as different stakeholders’ legal, economic or moral concerns may be perceived as barriers by others. However, agreeing on a partnership approach to reduce drug-related harm provides a route around this, as it allows these concerns to be aired and addressed, and for evidence-led initiatives to be agreed upon.

Download the full report here


Continue Reading

Want to comment or contribute?

Join the debate on twitter @VolteFaceHub