Night Tube: The twilight economy

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2018

Dr David Lutton, executive director of economy and tax at London First, argues that the capital’s night-time economy is just starting its journey.

London boasts some of the best nightlife in the world, with its theatres, bars, and restaurants part of what attracts millions of tourists to the capital every year.

When the Night Tube started running 24-hour services on Friday and Saturday evenings three years ago, it was a great step forward in turning the capital into a truly 24-hour city. In that time it has helped to drive jobs and growth, and brought prosperity to the city and country by enabling the capital’s businesses to work through the night. But while this success has helped its night-time economy to flourish, the capital is still underdeveloped compared to other global cities, and it simply doesn’t live up to places like Berlin or New York in terms of the twilight experience.

The reason for this, in part, is that perceptions that surround the night-time business scene – such as the enhanced potential for nuisance, crime, and the side-effects on public health – tends to distract from the huge benefits a bustling night-time economy can deliver.

And the benefits are profound. Our analysis shows that the increased number of journeys across the Night Tube has already resulted in an additional GVA contribution of £190m to London’s economy. Over the next 10 years it is estimated to contribute an additional £1.54bn, and London’s night-time economic activity already accounts for something like one in eight jobs in the city. 

The Night Tube still has a vital role to play if the capital is to achieve its night-time potential. The service will eventually be rolled out to other parts of the London Overground rail network, to the Docklands Light Railway by 2021, and potentially Crossrail – increasing capacity and allowing even more passengers, from further afield, to access all the capital has to offer, long into the night.

But service expansion is not enough on its own. We need to tackle any concerns that are holding back the capital’s ambitions; concerns such as increased nuisance and crime, which persist because night-time businesses are often associated with bars, pubs, and clubs. What we need is the right supporting policy framework and a strategy that will enable and encourage all of the capital’s industries to benefit from night working. There is a pressing need: more people work nights in health and social work, and in transport, than in accommodation and food services. And the numbers working nights in arts, entertainment and recreation are dwarfed by those in a whole range of sectors including admin and support services, scientific and technical, and information and communication roles.

The opportunities from an expansion in working hours are substantial, but businesses across different industries that operate at night often tell us they feel like second-class citizens; as problems that need to be managed rather than embraced. Positive steps have already been taken by establishing the Night Time Commission and appointing a Night Czar. The challenge now is to manage the often-competing interests of residents, users and businesses in a way that strikes a balance between growth, the economy, and developing opportunity.

The Night Tube will of course play a vital role, but only if we concentrate on those opportunities, tackle head-on the concerns that can derail progress, and focus on how London can work later, longer, smarter, and safer.


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