Punting salespeople criticised by Cambridge City Council for threatening violence against passers-by

We can reveal that marketing strategies include abusive slurs, intimidation and urination.


As a student in Cambridge city centre you rarely get attention from the infamous punt touts. Yet for tourists and residents unfortunate enough to not look like nerdy Cantabs, aggression and intimidation can be all too common.

document released by the Cambridge City Council lists complaints received about incidents between unlicensed punt touts and members of the public from April to October last year. This list only covers official complaints, meaning the scale of the problem in reality is likely to be much greater.

The document reveals dozens of instances in which punt touts acted up when members of the public refused their services, telling them to “fuck off” and in even in one case threatening to “smash their face in”.

It isn’t just the hard sell where unlicensed punters are being criticised – the document also reports “that a privately hired punt was crashed into on the river by an illegal operator”, injuring a passenger’s hand.

Another is reported to have stopped mid-tour to urinate on a river bank, explaining afterwards that “he had to go somewhere”.

Will, a first-year lawyer at Tit Hall, remarked on them often “making eyes” and “staring down” those working in the Jerwood Library, exacerbating the distraction of punts constantly passing by the college.

Image the shock when people realise Cambridge isn't actually made of watercolours.

Punting: a wretched hive of scum and villany.

The council’s aim in disclosing these events months after they occurred is to build the case for a total ban on unlicensed touts from working in the city centre. This is despite there being as many as 40 of them working in the city at the height of the summer, with one punt generating up to £1,500 a day, according to Sergeant Ian Wood of Cambridge Constabulary.

However, there are concerns that a by-product of the Council’s campaign will be to unfairly portray all independent operators in this way, and to stifle entrepreneurial activities.

Unlicensed punter George Sugden says he and others have been “demonised” by the council’s report, and that they additionally have pushed him into “a touting arms race with [his] competitors”.

The City Council said in a post on their website that “This behaviour is projecting a poor image of the city to visitors. Touting itself is not illegal but there is a byelaw in place to deal with aggressive touting.”

The age-old question of whether unlicensed operators can be reigned in without a draconian ban is unlikely to be solved soon.