Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Our night-time economy and why it doesn’t seem to add up

Should Colchester's night-time economy shut down earlier?

Should Colchester's night-time economy shut down earlier? - Credit: Getty Images

Apparently it was a lively old festive season. A promising young footballer was beaten up outside a Colchester nightclub. The 21-year-old, who was also on the threshold of some modelling work, now needs facial surgery.

As a result, both his footballing and modelling prospects are currently in the balance. During the New Year celebrations, proceedings moved up a gear.

As reported by this paper, during the small hours another young man was left fighting for his life after serious head injuries received, again, in a Colchester nightclub. The usual litany of fights and scuffles were reported elsewhere, proving that if nothing else, your average drunken gladiator still retains a strong sense of time and place: “Outside. Right now.”

Between midnight and 6am, Suffolk police dealt with 261 calls. Here in Essex, their colleagues reportedly arrested just over 100 people. A police spokesman was quoted as saying that most of the calls had been connected with “the night-time economy”. Now, I’ll just get the phraseology taxi to drop me off right here, so that we can all go and have a quick stroll around this thing which they’re calling the “night-time economy”.

Whenever I read the word “economy”, my brain usually conjures up little thumbnail pictures of men in suits, running around with laptops, using crisp expressions such as “balance of payments”, “FT index” or “trade deficits”.

I also associate the word with lugubrious ministers, who appear on television shortly after an equinox, delivering some soul-corroding piece of budgetry information. I don’t, however, immediately tend to think of gangs of tanked-up young men kicking and stamping on a motionless body, while some tearful drunken girl bawls, “Aow naow! Leaveimalaowan! Eeezadenuff!”

I ask myself what on earth do people who become staggering drunk every weekend find to do at Christmas or New Year? Answer; get even drunker. Is it free? No. They have to pay. It’s quite a lot of money, too. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is your night time economy.

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The people who keep our night economy buoyant, will, from mid evening until sparrows chirp, pay club entrance fees, drinks, food bills and cab fares. That’s the income. Naturally, there are expenses.

In order to function profitably, the night economy requires a support cadre consisting of the constabulary, paramedics, doctors, nurses, counsellors, security men, and cleaners, along with all the equipment, protection and other resources incumbent upon their work.

Much of these necessities, we suspect, will not be factored into the accounts by the people most likely to reap the rewards. There will be many hidden or ‘outboard’ expenses too, including remedial dentistry, facial restructuring, legal fees, prison /probation services, counselling, medication, insurance and so forth. The list is endless, a bottomless pit into which much public money is thrown.

Our night economy requires a serious audit. It needs a small team of sober suits to turn up one grey Monday morning and proceed to go through the books like a dose of salts. Such auditors would have to allow for some of the economy’s more nebulous aspects. These might include monies never made, from the people who don’t venture into town any more, because they’re reluctant to walk through a kebab-strewn battleground. I imagine that an accountant might categorise this as ‘depreciation’ – of a sort.

The thing about accountants and auditors is that they have this boring image. Despite the well-known old Monty Python sketches, I have rarely met a dull accountant. I find that when you persuade an accountant to open up the subject, it can become quite fascinating. Accountancy, we find, is chiefly about income and expenditure and everything connected to it flows to and from these two great rivers. An audit, however, is not just the ins and outs of a business. It’s the ‘What’s bin did and what’s bin hid’ of the matter. I suspect, therefore, that if an audit could ever be carried out upon our night-time economy, the auditors would soon conclude that it should be closed altogether.

What any council should be asking itself, is not whether they can improve their night-time economy, but whether or not they can afford to have one at all. If the answer is still yes, then the next step would be a nit-combing expenses, collaterals and precisely what types of collateral damage might be acceptable.

Is it, for instance, ‘acceptable’ every few weeks, to have someone beaten nearly to death in the street. Colchester, largely because of its night-time economy, is now widely perceived as being ‘rough’. Is it acceptable that un-logged numbers of people living in outlying areas don’t bother coming into town after 8pm? This too is collateral damage, as it affects the economy.

Even if the town isn’t as rough as its press sometimes implies, it is the perception of roughness which will finally dominate public opinion.

If that perception maintains, then even with the best will in the world, Colchester can kiss goodbye to its cultural quarter, its art gallery visitor figures and its proposed new cinema. You don’t fit a new kitchen without first stripping out the old rubbish do you?

So let’s use a big yard-broom here. Colchester recently began switching off its streetlights at midnight in order to save money. Fair start. Now let’s close the night-time economy down early, too. We’ll save shiploads.