Costs for manning the doors of the UK’s late night venues has gone up significantly. But that’s not the only problem – well trained security staff are being pulled into servicing Covid test centres, raising concerns over safety.

“It’s really tough. It’s putting an absolute strain on every operator.”

Peter Marks is discussing the door supervisor crisis that’s adding yet another headache to the long list of ailments facing late-night venue owners across the UK.

Marks suggests that costs for manning the doors at Rekom UK – operator of 42 venues including PRYZYM and Bar & Beyond – have increased by around 20%.

Added to the company’s existing security budget of £7.5m, it’s another painful pressure point for the operator, which has already been exposed to the worst of Covid’s restrictions.

One “totally obvious” reason for supervisor shortages is the fact Covid test centres are draining agents licensed by the SIA [Security Industry Association] away from late night venues, according to Aaron Mellor, group managing director of Tokyo Industries, which operates 45 clubs, bars and festivals across the UK.

“The issue is not so much shortage in numbers but a huge shortage in quality,” he tells MCA. “We are now paying significantly more for a lower quality of staff as the better more experienced guys are redeployed to test centres – or totally new roles during lockdown.”

This is just one way in which Covid-related regulatory demands are having an impact, as the sector now faces an introduction of vaccine passports as part of the government’s Plan B for controlling the spread of the new omicron variant.

This will necessitate extra door staff. Marks says Rekom can navigate this by deploying other staff members for the passport-checking role – which can be done without SIA-certification – but it’s a potentially problematic solution.


“If you’ve got an awkward customer complaining about how it’s an infringement on personal freedoms, or whatever it may be, you want someone that can defuse and explain it,” he says. “You don’t want an untrained 19-year-old doing that.

“But we are living in a price-sensitive market and are forced into this sort of decision.”

’The system is flawed’

Mellor is even more damning. He says Plan B will mean increased security to manage a “totally flawed system, easily cheated.” Mellor says there is no real way of checking the validity of an NHS Pass with no front-line scanning app. Nor can venues check if a lateral flow test is generated by the person saying that it is. “It’s yet another rushed, insecure system, with so many ways to bypass it, that it makes a nonsense of the application,” he says.

Other operators have been forced to close early to cope with the lack of security staff. Earlier this year Stonegate Group commercial director Suzanna Baker told MCA’s Pub Conference how the operator was juggling scarce staff around its estate.

“We’re having to close pubs at 9pm, because we can’t get the door staff, or we have them go to another pub that’s bigger, we’re having to juggle,” she said.

“Friday and Saturdays are long old nights. It’s a risk to your business, you can’t breach your licencing conditions, as everyone knows.

“I don’t see getting any easier at the moment.”

Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, said operators were facing a range of challenges around security resource levels. He said a proportion were having to reduce hours or close due to premises license constraints, due to not being able to access levels of security resource required.

Rekom UK Club-atmosphere-12

Professional Security is the biggest provider of SIA-licensed door supervisors in the UK. Headed up by Jason Thorndycraft, formerly of Rekom predecessor Deltic, as well as Drake & Morgan and Novus Leisure, he says the shortages are being driven by multiple factors including Brexit and the pandemic, which have led to licensed personnel leaving the UK.

‘Compliance is incredibly important’

“Licensed personnel have drifted out of the sector and into other lines of employment,” he tells MCA. “Plus the pipeline of trained new licensed door supervisors dried up as training pretty much halted during lockdown.”

SIA licenses normally have to be renewed – at a cost of £190 – every three years. Since October, all door supervision and security guarding license holders have had to take part in top-up training.

Marks says these renewals are a major contributor to the pipeline blockage. “You need to reduce refresher requirements of the SIA license until this crisis is behind us,” he says. “New people coming into the industry should be trained in the most essential elements, and people should be able to do it [the training] online from homes rather than go to classrooms.”

That position is endorsed by Professional Security, who say they support “any initiative that could be put in place that would remove any barrier to keeping good personnel in the sector”.

“Compliance is clearly incredibly important in our sector, so a timeline framework would need to be put around the suspension period e.g. sanctioning a year extension to all badged personnel would seem sensible,” Thorndycraft added.

MCA reached out to the SIA for comment, which said data from its licensing system showed the number of door supervisor licences and licence applications was the “highest it’s been in the last 10 years”. The SIA added the number of people undertaking the training required in order to apply for a licence “remains healthy.”

The data shows the number of door supervisor applications for September 2021 was indeed higher (14,985) than any point during the period for which numbers were supplied – leaning back to April 2019 – though they have dropped by nearly two-thirds in October (5,142) and November (6,044).


“We’ve previously deferred the introduction of top-up training for a year because of the pressures created by Covid-19 restrictions,” an SIA spokesperson explains. “Having identified risks to the public, it is important that this safety-critical training was introduced. These changes will significantly raise standards in the industry and contribute to public safety.”

’Needle spiking is a total media farce’

Yet another strain on the door this year has been the emergence of the so-called needle-spiking crisis, with customers alleging they have been injected with drugs in venues.

While reports of needle spiking have been privately treated with scepticism, late night venues have been under pressure to demonstrate enhanced safety checks to pacify this heightened concern.

“The awareness and education around drink-spiking is valuable, but it’s a total media farce,” Aaron Mellor says. “Myself and every other club operator I have known in 25 years has never found a single report of a needle, or any evidence that needle spiking exists. Now reports to welfare or medic stations on spiking have increased ten-fold [since the crisis began getting traction in November].”

“There are no needle–spikings and there never have been,” Peter Marks adds. “We aren’t saying that people aren’t topping up drinks, but we are having to deal with a crisis of confidence rather than a crisis of reality. And it does mean extra security checks.”

What’s clear now is that with this imperfect storm, late-night venues will be crossing their fingers and clinging tightly onto their old door hands as they try to navigate the traditional busy season.

Looking to the future, Aaron Mellor suggests SIA control rules on Covid-19 test centres should be relaxed– which would nudge higher paid registered staff back onto venues, while saving the NHS and government hundreds of thousands of pounds.

One thing is for certain – the commitment to customer welfare won’t be changing, whatever the future holds. “We look after people, keep them safe,” says Peter Marks. “It’s what we do.”