The Purple Flag – working towards a better night time economy

Purple Flag Awardee - High Wycombe

The private security industry plays a critical role in the safety and security of our night time economy. A key driver in raising standards in the management of town centre nightlife is the Purple Flag accreditation scheme which is designed to broaden their appeal, writes Bobby Logue. The Association of Town Centre Management (ATCM) launched the scheme in October 2009 after eight years of research and development, showing that the benefits of a scheme might include the attraction of current non-users of town centres after dark, the increase in trade, the reduction of crime and increased user and resident satisfaction with their town centre.

Central and local government, the police, business, town centre partnerships and trade bodies have all come on board to support Purple Flag, demonstrating the widespread understanding of the benefits that the scheme can bring. At its heart is a unique system of values and standards – the Purple Flag ‘Core Agenda’. Those centres that reach these standards can fly the Purple Flag. To date, 15 town and city centres have been awarded Purple Flags, including major cities, historic centres and market towns, and interest in the scheme continues to grow. On November 3rd Purple Flags were awarded to Round Two winners – Bournemouth, Bristol, Halifax, High Wycombe, Oxford and Winchester at a ceremony hosted by Nottingham City Council and We Are Nottingham (BID).

The award winners joined the nine existing Purple Flag holders across the country that have met the high standards expected, including Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Bath. However, Purple Flag is intended to be more than just an award for effort and a cause for celebration – valuable as this is. It also provides research, training, and development opportunities to help towns & cities improve their management strategies and tackle issues such as anti-social behaviour, and encourage a diverse evening offer. It is also important to note that while the bar has been set relatively high for the earlier rounds, it was also intended to be accessible to those who are at the front of the pack in managing their town centre at night.

However, as the scheme progresses, the standards expected by new Purple Flag applicants and those centres renewing their accreditation will rise in line with best practice. What is seen as outstanding in a particular Purple Flag standard today, will become the expected norm in the future. Through this process, it is intended to create a ‘virtuous upward spiral’ of improvements across the country, rather than in creating a small cohort of particularly forward thinking locations.

It is also worth adding here that of the 15 current Purple Flag holders, while all reached the minimum expected in the five ‘standards’ that makeup the Core Agenda, some were considerably stronger than others in certain areas, for example the provision of later night transport, festivals and events or in public space design. Feedback to those applicants from the assessors and the Accreditation Panel allows them to ensure that next year they can work on improving their areas of relative weakness. It is also true to say that, as perhaps might be expected, Purple Flag holders have been universally strong on the areas of ‘customer care’ (policing, street pastors, strategy etc.), but the picture is a little more mixed in the more challenging areas of diversification of user and uses, later night transport and design for town centres after dark. Over time, as centres embed their good practice in customer care, it is envisaged that more time and creativity will be given to addressing those areas of each standard where assessors felt individual centres could do more.

In addition to the core business of assessing and accrediting applications for the scheme, in 2011 the ATCM will be embarking on a major campaign to raise the profile of the initiative nationally, and helping Purple Flag winners reap the benefits of accreditation locally. Supported by the Home Office, Diageo and numerous industry bodies, Purple Flag is keen to extend accreditation to all corners of the UK and overseas. We also want to generate interest from the full range of destinations: coastal resorts, market towns, historic centres and industrial towns, as well as larger cities and London entertainment zones.

Purple Flag is currently in the process of developing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the night-time economy (NTE) in cooperation with NightMix and Springboard in order to underpin the initiative with a solid evidence base which demonstrates economic & social benefits. This innovative development work is vital to the future of the initiative and breaks new ground in NTE measurement.  ATCM is also looking to establish a new network of professionals in the NTE management field. Over 250 town and city centres have established NTE initiatives as part of their local community safety drive, so effective management of these initiatives is essential. It is ATCM’s intention to provide learning and networking opportunities to support these centres’ initiatives, encouraging the development of diverse and inclusive evening and night-time economies across the UK.

The support of central government has been invaluable in helping Purple Flag develop and blossom from a bright idea to a reality. Home Office minister James Brokenshire recently stated that the Government plans to be flexible when applying discounts for the late-night levy in its review of the Licensing Act. Speaking at the 2010 Responsible Drinks Retailing Conference, Brokenshire praised the “very effective partnership schemes” as an example of “what this Government wants from the Big Society”. He singled out Purple Flag amongst other schemes and town centre management models, calling for “more take up” of such projects.”

Purple Flag Website