Special report: Bars face chronic security staff shortage

New figures show bars, pubs and clubs across the UK are struggling to recruit enough security staff and the problem is particularly acute in Liverpool city region. Tony McDonough reports

Bouncer, security, doorman, door staff, concrete nightclub, bar
Bars and clubs are finding it increasingly difficult to find qualified security and door staff


Bars, pubs and clubs across Merseyside are facing a chronic shortage of door security staff after many drifted away from the industry during COVID and did not return.

Figures from the Night Time Industries Association (NITA) reveal the shortage is a problem across the UK. NITA claims around 75% of clubs, pubs and bars are short of security staff. In some cases this forces them to close early or on certain nights.

Shahzad Ali is chief executive at Get Licensed, a UK-wide security training and staffing platform. He claims interest in security-related positions dropped by 8% in the past two years. This is despite an almost 50% increase in new roles on jobs site Indeed. This has led to a 5.1% year-on-year increase in pay.

“The shortage began during the pandemic and the problem is growing,” said Shahzad. “The cost of living is rising. This rise affects business owners too. Many pub or club owners are reducing opening hours or moving “last call” hours forward. This is due to a mix of higher costs and a rising shortage of security staff.

“There is currently around 250,000 licensed security door staff in the UK. However, not all of them are ‘active’. Many moved on during the pandemic to find other sources of work. Others show reluctance to return to the role as they have fears of further closures.”

Summer festivals could add to the shortage, he adds, as other staff will be diverted elsewhere. The cost of living crisis is now influencing customer retention at pubs, restaurants and beyond with many businesses reporting fewer visitors.

All door staff must acquire a Security Industry Authority (SIA) licence. Government introduced the licences more than 20 years ago to raise standards. However, what was once a two-day course, now takes eight days and the cost falls on the individual. That is a powerful disincentive for new entrants or those looking to renew their SIA.

LBN spoke to two experienced individuals in the Liverpool city region hospitality sector – John Hughes of Liverpool Nightlife and Tony Brown of Mikhail Hotel & Leisure Group. They confirm that local bars are struggling to hire security staff. This is a particular problem for Liverpool city centre where hospitality is a big driver of the visitor economy.

John Hughes has been a stalwart of the Liverpool hospitality sector for more than three decades. He was involved in well known venues such as the 147 and Envy. Four years ago he set up Liverpool Nightlife, a community interest company. It aims to get the hospitality sector, the city council and the police working together more closely.

He says for years there had been an ‘us versus them’ culture between the public sector and hospitality venues. John now works with the council, the police and the Police Crime Commissioner to address that. He is also now working with Liverpool BID company.

He was able to get bleed control kits into bars to help stabbing victims. John said: “I am basically the night-time representative of the hospitality sector. We have been treading water a bit for the first four years but we are now starting to make progress and see our work recognised.”

He confirms that many door staff, who for the most part are self-employed, drifted away from hospitality during the pandemic and found other jobs elsewhere. He explained: “Many people who were self-employed left the hospitality industry during COVID.

“When I see lads who used to do the doors they have found a new lease of life. They are now working as delivery drivers and getting paid a lot more money than when they worked on the doors.

“There are still companies in hospitality offering just £10 an hour to door staff. I was paying £10 an hour 20 years ago. It is difficult for the bars to start paying out more wages when all their other costs are going up. They are also carrying debts built up during COVID.

“My worry is that there are more inexperienced, younger people getting involved in the security game. It is not the type of job for 18 or 19-year olds. You really need more mature people – those with more real life experience. Testosterone still flies around in the young lads.

“You used to have to do a course to get your SIA badge, lasting two days. Now it is an eight-day course and many people can’t afford to take eight days off from their day jobs. And they have to pay for it themselves. It means a lot of the lads don’t bother renewing their badges.”

“To get the experience and the quality you have to pay people properly. Shortage of taxi drivers is also a big problem at the moment. It can be difficult for people to travel home late at night unless they are prepared to pay Uber prices. Many drivers joined Amazon or started long distance lorry driving.”


John Hughes
John Hughes, founder of Liverpool Nightlife
Mathew Street
Liverpool city centre is home to numerous pubs, clubs and bars. Picture by Tony McDonough


Former Merseyside Police detective Tony Brown is head of security for the Mikhail Hotel & Leisure Group. It runs a number of bars, restaurants and hotels across the Liverpool city region.

Mikhail, founded by Andrew Mikhail, owns Punch Tarmey’s, Doctor Duncan’s and the Brewery Tap in Liverpool, The Bold Hotel and Lord Street Hotel in Southport and the Eccleston Arms Bar & Grill in St Helens. It is also about to relaunch Cains Brewery in Liverpool’s Baltic district.

Tony confirms that COVID has seen many former door staff leave the industry. Recruitment now a major problem for businesses such as Mikhail, he explains.

“It is a massive issue locally,” he said. “I have put two adverts out on Indeed for night staff for Liverpool and Southport. In the past 12 months I interviewed 70 people and I have only took on two of them.

“Most people who apply are not up to the required standard. I am looking for mature door people who can act properly with customers. There is a massive shortage and we had been understaffed for quite a while because I won’t bring just anyone in.

“I have managed to address the problem for the moment. We have had to pay people a little bit more money to attract them in. It is very very difficult to find the right people.

“All the staff working for us work the doors as a second job. All our staff are responsible people with daytime jobs. They have the maturity to handle any conflict or situations on the door professionally.

“COVID saw lads finding jobs elsewhere and I have had to coax them back to maybe do a few hours. They are all doing this as second jobs. It is a reflection of the cost of living crisis – people are using the extra money to pay their bills.

“I get on really well with my door staff. I now count them as friends. Back in the old days there was always conflict between the police and door staff but we demand higher standards now. You cannot have a record for trouble.

“We have not got to a point where everyone in Mikhail works really well together. I’ve had fantastic support from Andrew Mikhail and Rob Ashcroft in the management. It is a great team now but it has taken us 12 months to get to this point. It has been a real struggle.”

Shahzad Ali added: “It has always been hard to hire within the sector, but with Brexit, COVID and the cost of living, it has never been harder. The industry desperately needs a boost in security staff to keep standards high, keep businesses functioning smoothly, and ensure that people stay safe on a night out.”

You might also like More from author

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Username field is empty.