Suggest to the boss of Britain’s biggest nightclub operator that the drinking in his venues inevitably leads to snogging and he’ll give you an earful. “How outdated!” he snorts. “Nightclubs haven’t done slow dances for 25 years. Get real!”
Peter Marks’s outburst is hardly surprising given that his company’s 47 sites have not been able to operate as fully fledged nightclubs since March 2020 because they are regarded by the government as hotbeds of physical contact and, by implication, propagators of coronavirus.
With Deltic Group in danger of extinction, the hunt for a buyer was launched and in January it was sold via a pre-pack administration to Rekom Group, a Danish nightclub operator with about 130 venues, for a knockdown price of £10 million, although after adding £1 million a month of cash-burn costs, the total outlay is nearer £20 million.
If the prime minister’s original road map to reopening had been adhered to, Marks, 60, would now be reflecting on the first weekend of restriction-free trading — except that Freedom Day was pushed back from June 21 to July 19, costing Rekom UK another £1 million. Meanwhile, the extra 600 staff he hired in anticipation of the resumption of trading have been left twiddling their thumbs.
“Let’s just hope July 19 is not another false dawn,” he said. “It’s not been easy because we can’t furlough the extra staff we took on. You’ve got a situation where a lot of them are thinking, do I really want to be working here? I just want a part-time job, so I’ll go to McDonald’s.”
Marks accepts that Rekom UK is in a better position than most. “We’ve already gone bust and come out the other side. At least we’ve got a balance sheet. We’re burning money we don’t want to burn but we’re not going to die because we put enough capital in to get by for the year if necessary.”
He said that as well as the financial impact, there was a “psychological impact on both our staff and management and our guests. There’s a lot of scare stories out there as a result of which nightclubs have become almost the last place you’d ever want to be.”
Some of the grievances are not new. Businesses in the sector have long been distrustful of a government that they feel has downplayed their cultural and economic significance. Even before the pandemic, venues were closing down at a staggering rate as local councils cracked down on late-night licences.
Yet, nightclubs alone contributed £1.3 billion a year to the UK economy before the pandemic, according to an analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research. That is not insignificant, especially when you compare it with the fishing industry, which contributed £446 million.