Flying the flag in Southend

About 10 weeks ago, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council put out a self-congratulatory press release to say that they’d been awarded a purple flag because of the quality of the nightlife in the town and how safe it was for those on a night out.

My reaction when I first read the press reports was to scoff and wonder how anyone could be so naive but someone (I think it might have been Demi) pointed out that this wasn’t necessarily the case.

A quick bit of digging later and I mentally filed the story under things to blog about only to forget about it – probably due to alcohol. Lost it would have remained but until a few days ago when I happened to see this tweet from an Essex police officer:

at which point what passes for my brain cell reminded me that I meant to write something about the whole business.

A purple flag is awarded by the The Association of Town Centre Management (ATCM), who, if I’m reading their website correctly, appear to be a group of self-appointed experts who think that they know what is best for town centres. Membership of this organisation is, it has to be said, cheap in the grand scheme of things with (ex-VAT) prices for the current year being £237.50, £312.50 or £397.50 depending on the size of the local population.

The flag, has, according to the website

…been designed as an objective assessment that will help you improve your town or city centre at night. Most significantly it is designed to provide recognition that your centre is managing its night time experience and thus help overcome any negative public perceptions that may exist. Purple Flag provides the opportunity for successful centres to present themselves in their true colours and in a positive light to town centre users, including operators, residents, tourists and visitors.

Purple Flag aims to raise the standard and broaden the appeal of centres between 1700 and 0600. The scheme is managed by the ATCM working alongside the Purple Flag Advisory Committee – a partnership of key stakeholder groups, including central and local government, police, business and consumers.

How altruistic of them to let people know how nice a town centre is as an after hours social place. Still doesn’t answer the question of why they would assume that Friday or Saturday night in Southend is a nice place to be though…

Oh, it turns out the purple flag isn’t awarded as the result of an anonymous user exercise or some such like. it is something which a local council has to apply for. The upfront cost to an applying council with a population of the size of Southend is non-refundable sum of £2,250 + VAT. The yearly fee for keeping it (if you get it) is £750 + VAT and ATCM are (along with the drinks company Diageo) available to help for an addition £500 + VAT. ATCM have an address in Queen Anne’s Gate to maintain…

What we don’t know, of course, know is how many hours – and at what cost – the council and the Essex Police spent on

  1. submitting the application,
  2. ferrying around the ATCM staffers when they were in town, and
  3. the jolly to Bristol last week.

Personally I’m of the opinion that even a thruppenny bit would have been too much.


  1. JuliaM says:

    “Most significantly it is designed to provide recognition that your centre is managing its night time experience and thus help overcome any negative public perceptions that may exist. “

    And as such, is a waste of money. Because who are you going to believe, ATCM or what you read in the ‘Echo’ and are told by your friends, family, colleagues, etc..?

  2. RooBeeDoo says:

    On the night of the judges’ visit, doormen were put on the taxi ranks to keep the drunken punters in check. Never to be seen again. Add that cost on too.

  3. Rahul says:

    Un-fracking believable. Reminds me of Henry Dimbleby (I think thats his name) starting the Restaurant Sustainability Association to certify the environmental practices of that trade, for a nice little fee of course. More annoyingly, this council is spending its tax revenues on this shite?

  4. The Blue Flag beach thing works the same way. You pay, they inspect, then they get press coverage for the ones who pay up – no sorry – come up to scratch.

    I wouldn’t take much notice of any of them. BTW, you forgot the cost of the bod at the council who liaises with them. Another pretendy job.

    • Misanthrope Girl says:

      It is? I’d say I’m surprised – but I’d be lying. Southend Council, by the way, boast that they have 5 of those… along with 4 Green Flags which I would assume are also awarded on the same basis.

  5. SadButMadLad says:

    Definitely a load of bollocks. Looking up Halifax which is near me, I see no connection with reality. It mentions the Peace Hall – pretty much closed down now that the council doesn’t look after it or maintain it, all traders leaving or closing down. It mentions the Square Chapel with it’s arts, but that’s not where the drinking takes place. And brass bands and theatre, yeah, drinkers will definitely go there.

    My experience of going to the pubs around Barum Top is that there is always some little disagreement going on. As for purple flag, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know about the flag and this is the first I’ve heard of it – and now I’ll ignore it as useless.