Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Ninth Report

Sunday Dancing - The Scottish Experience

Reform of the restrictions on Sunday dancing took place in Scotland in 1976. This reform was welcomed by the public, local authorities and operators alike and is considered to have been a great success. The proposals currently being considered by the House of Commons Deregulation Committee share the key elements that contributed to the success of reform in Scotland:

  • local accountability - venues were permitted to apply to open, they could not automatically open under the reforms

  • public order - partly because of the local accountability, BEDA is unaware of any instances of public order problems or increased residential disturbance as a result of the reforms in Scotland

  • public demand - opening of venues on a Sunday has been sustained by public demand, particularly amongst more mature customers, making it the third most popular night of the week

  • economic benefits - according to a recent survey, Sunday trading now generates £98,000 in gross revenue per venue per annum in Scotland.


According to the Pepsi Barometer Industry Survey 1999, Sunday has clearly established itself as the third most popular trading night of the week, contributing on average 14% to clubs gross revenues. 120 Scottish nightclubs were questioned as part of the survey. The clubs had an average annual turnover of £700,000 with an average Sunday turnover of £1,884 per night. Independent research prepared for BEDA by the Economists Advisory Group (EAG) confirms this and expects the trend would continue into England and Wales:

"Sunday nightclubbing … has been popular in Scotland for 20 years, where it is the third most popular evening of the week. Our research confirms that a similar pattern would emerge in England and Wales."

Feedback from operators suggested that they have found the night to be particularly popular when it precedes a Bank Holiday Monday. EAG supports this point, noting that:

"When the Sunday night precedes a Bank Holiday in Scotland, operators report that business is typically equivalent to a Saturday."

Figures from the 1999 industry survey suggest typical Saturday night revenues for a nightclub of £4,577. With between four and six Bank Holiday weekends a year reform could provide an additional £27,462 per venue on these nights alone. A sizeable financial boost for the hundreds of small and medium size enterprises that make up the majority of the late night entertainment industry.

Scottish operators found that reform in the 1970s opened up new market opportunities. BEDA Scotland Chairman, John Fox notes:

"There has always been a great demand from younger customers for club nights on a Friday and Saturday night. The beauty of Sunday dancing is that it allows us to cater for this demand and then serve the needs of our more mature customers on a Sunday. As a result Sundays tend to be more relaxed, casual nights, very popular with the late twenties and early thirties market and female customers."

It is reasonable to believe this pattern would be repeated in England and Wales. There is a great demand from 18 to 25 year olds for club nights on a Friday and Saturday. Operators will always look to satisfy this demand. Deregulation of the 1780 Sunday Observance Act will give them the flexibility to offer a different type of music on a Sunday, probably focused on the 25 to 35 year old market. This would be consistent with the more restricted opening hours and special considerations proposed for Sunday trading with the 12.30am terminal hour lending itself to the older more sophisticated customer than the more energetic younger crowd.

Social Aspects of Reform

BEDA is unaware of any evidence to suggest that the decision to permit Sunday Dancing in Scotland has contributed to increased residential disturbance or public order problems. As with any other day, operators are aware of the need to ensure that on a Sunday their venues are well run and consider the needs of both customers and local residents. The more rigorous application process that will exist in England and Wales should reform occur will ensure that operators are mindful of the need for this approach.

Scottish operators already co-operate with licensing boards on a range of initiatives to combat residential disturbance and public order. This is also the case in England and Wales where existing initiatives would be extended to cover Sundays. For example BEDA is currently working with the British Institute of Innkeepers and Westminster City Council on a National Entertainment Licensees' Qualification aimed at ensuring all managers of late night venues are able to run orderly operations, considerate to the needs of local residents and minimising public order problems. All BEDA members are committed to signing up for this qualification as a statement of their commitment to social responsibility.

Increasingly nightclubs are working in partnership with local authorities and the police to develop programmes of activity promoting responsible behaviour and minimising disturbance and disorder. For example, the BEDA, ACPO, LGA guidelines on the Public Entertainments Licences (Drug Misuse) Act and the Boiling Point Preventer initiative in Kirklees.


Scottish customers, of all ages, have benefited from Sunday reform. Scottish operators, big and small, have benefited. The socially responsible attitude of operators, combined with the demands of the licensing process (even more rigorous in England and Wales) has kept public order problems and residential disturbance to a minimum.

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