Reading’s lively, varied nightlife and cultural offer continues to be a major pull for our town. We know that our own residents regularly travel to enjoy the bright lights of the town centre, but the same also applies to the many visitors who travel into Reading from far and wide to enjoy its attractions. In fact, I often wonder what residents in some neighbouring areas would do for amusement if they didn’t have Reading as an option (as it happens, I grew up in a village where the nightlife was mostly a communal discussion of sugar beet harvests).
While we wouldn’t want to lose it, our night-time economy is not without challenges for local bodies. This is true for both our incredible emergency services, who do such an admirable job in Reading with scarce resources, and the local Council itself.
While the Council is not immediately on the front line in the same way that Police or Ambulance colleagues are, there are some things we can do to make our town as safe a place as possible in which to enjoy a night out.
This week, councillor colleagues approved the Council’s new and updated Licensing Policy at a Council meeting. It’s a policy which must be renewed every five years by law. This important document details the vast number of considerations taken into account when you have, as we do, an oversight of the large number of premised licenses in our town.
Among them are details on how licensing applications will be considered, conditions and hours of operation, and enforcement action against premises if they are not meeting prescribed standards.
New in this updated Licensing Policy is a section specifically on vulnerability and violence against women and girls. We know this is an area where there has been a rise in reports nationally.
As the licensing authority, the Council remains committed to ensuring Reading is a safe and welcoming town for everyone – regardless of sex and gender, ethnicity, sexuality, beliefs, or background. The new section has been included to ensure women’s safety is a key consideration for the Council when determining future decisions on Reading’s night-time economy.
Part of that is ensuring that the licensing authority keeps detailed records on the prevalence, prevention, and reporting of sexual harassment and gender-based violence. But there is a real emphasis too on the operators of licenced premises. Specifically, the new policy states that premises are expected to develop their own harm-reduction policies, especially at businesses where incidents of physical and sexual violence are frequently reported.
For its part, the Council will aim to promote best practices, including the Night Time Industries Association’s good practice for dealing with spiking and having a duty of care for customers. We also intend to continue integration with other night-time safety initiatives in the town, which include supporting the delivery of suitable training across premises; licenced door supervisors who patrol the town during evenings; the existing Street Pastors scheme; the hugely successful First Stop service, which has taken the pressure off hard-pressed A and E departments since its inception; and regular taxi and private hire enforcement.
‘Safer Street’ funding is also being used to improve night-time safety for people working and socialising in the town. This includes the establishment of a Safe Hub in the town centre, running community safety campaigns, working with bars, pubs and clubs, and promoting safe routes home for those enjoying the town at night. The Safer Students Partnership – bringing together the Council, the University and its Students’ Union (RUSU), and Reading College – will address key safety issues for students.
We will, of course, continue close working relationships with our colleagues at Thames Valley Police, Reading PubWatch, the town’s Business Improvement District and REDA (Reading’s Economy and Destination Agency), amongst others. Women’s safety is a joint responsibility. The Council cannot act alone and all partners – including the late-night bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues that make-up our vibrant night-time economy – must take a share of ownership to allows us to succeed. The Council’s new updated Licensing Policy further reiterates the standards that we expect from businesses, both existing ones and future operators, in this increasingly important area of work.