The sun is shining in Manchester, which is a rare occurrence in a place otherwise known as “the rainy city.” It’s perhaps one of the reasons the newly appointed Night-Time Economy Advisor for Greater Manchester Sacha Lord is anxious about the turnout of hospitality staff for a meeting he has organised. On the agenda are issues such as the fair distribution of tips, getting home safety after work, and mental health.
Lord has 25 years of experience within Manchester’s night-time economy but is best known for being the boss of the city’s biggest nightclub The Warehouse Project, and for organising Parklife Festival, which attracts the world’s leading music stars and 80,000 people to the city every year.
“During the mayoral elections, I went to all the candidates and pointed out that the night-time economy is the fifth biggest industry in the UK. We employ more than 8 percent of the whole UK workforce but sometimes the importance of it isn’t recognised,” Lord tells me in response to how he arrived at his Council-appointed role, which took effect in June.
Given the recent criticism leveraged at London’s Night Czar Amy Lamé following the Hackney Council licensing row, I’m keen to find out how Lord might navigate questions regarding the validity of his role and a possible conflict of interest with his main job.
“I want to act as a voice for night-time workers, be it hospitality staff or doctors and nurses, but more than that, we’re going to have a panel of key stakeholders discussing the issues," he replies. "And it’s not going to be a gang of Sacha’s friends. For example, I’ve got someone on the board who I fought with for many, many years, who tried to take the license off me."
Lord needn’t have worried about the turnout for his meeting. The Deaf Institute, which usually serves as one of the city’s leading live music venues, is soon packed and the attendees barely take advantage of the free bar. People are here to get down to business, incensed to speak out following a row over tips at a Didsbury restaurant that recently made national news.
While the Didsbury incident focused on staff being forced to pay for simple mistakes out of their tips, discussion soon turns to how contactless payments have had a negative effect on the amount of gratuity being left by customers. Several of the hospitality staff present are also unhappy with how the operators they work for distribute the tips that are left.
“I’m a bar manager of a restaurant and the chefs get paid loads more than I do, yet complain if they don’t get the same amount of tips as the bar staff. I don’t think that’s fair,” says one woman. “CPs on minimum wage are the first to get their hours cut when it’s quiet, so I think they deserve the tips,” responds another. “Tips subsidise low wages and that should be publicised more,” opines a bartender, while a waiter tells Lord, “getting taxed on tips is unfair.”
Following the meeting, I ask Lord whether the issues raised will result in actual policy change.
“I report everything back to Andy [Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester] directly. I say, ‘Look, this is what’s come of this, this is exactly what I think needs to happen,’ and so far, he’s taken everything on board," Lord responds. "But I can’t say to people, ‘You have to do this or that.’”
He continues: “However, that [Didsbury restaurant] article sent a ripple through the city and I know from speaking to operators already that they’re going to take it on board. And what I want to happen is, in the same way you have a hygiene standard, to have a gold standard in tipping as well, with maximum transparency. I feel the good operators will adopt it and embarrass the operators that don’t.”
Like the rest of the country, Manchester has been hit by a wave of club closures in recent years, and disputes between residents and venues have threatened the future of long-standing bars and music spaces such as Night and Day and Islington Mill. It’s an issue Lord is especially passionate about, and will also be the focus of his role.
“It’s not right that a resident can move into a block of apartments knowing damn well that they’re living in the centre of Manchester and then start kicking off about a venue next door, so with the Agent of Change Bill that’s coming in, I think that’s a big positive, I fully support that,” he says of the legislation that would protect existing music venues as property developers move in.
While Lord is cautious about announcing a timeline for enacting change on issues he doesn’t hold legislative power to deliver, his enthusiasm for the Night Czar role and the possibilities of better communication between hospitality staff and operators is infectious. At the close of the Deaf Institute meeting, several audience members express their gratitude to Lord for organising the discussion, while others ask him for career advice.
It’s too early to predict what Lord might do for the Manchester's night-time economy in the long run, but his personal success so far has inspired the next generation to turn up and at least listen to what he has to say.