The Numbers Game

Readers will no doubt have seen articles in the press saying that pub numbers are rising. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), during 2019 the number of pubs rose by 315, which is an increase of 0.8%. This is against the background of the loss of an average of 732 pubs per year since 2010. From the press coverage you might think that that’s it then: we’ve won. Or have we?

The statistics suggest that larger food-led pubs are seeing the most growth. The following numbers come from the Official Labour Market Statistics, as compiled by the ONS/Nomis. In 2007, 426,000 people were employed in 51,120 pubs while in 2019 the figures were 457,000 in 39,130. That is an increase from 8.3 staff per pub to 11.7. In 2007, 37.6% of pub staff worked behind the bar but by 2019 it was down to 29%.

That said, there was a small but not unimportant increase of 85 in the number of small pubs, defined as those with ten employees or less. At face value, this reflects the growth in micropubs. My suspicion however is that a larger number of micropubs opened and the figure is net of the number of small wet-led pubs that closed. Hugh Stickland, a senior statistician at the ONS, commented, “While smaller pubs have been struggling to survive in recent years, bigger pubs have been growing in number. We’ll have to wait to see if this marks a revival for smaller ‘locals’.”

CAMRA’s National Chairman, Nik Antona, said, “Unfortunately pubs continue to close across the country, particularly in small or rural communities. This means the loss of the social, cultural and economic benefits that come with a well-run local. To ensure pubs survive and thrive, they need a fair tax system and stability going forward. CAMRA continues to call on the Government for a review of the business rates system, as was promised in the Conservative general election manifesto.”

In conclusion, let me repeat the wise view of CAMRA’s London Regional Secretary, Roy Tunstall who expertly maintains CAMRA’s pub data for Greater London. While the number of pubs may be stabilising, we are still seeing a relatively high rate of closure of small wet-led community pubs which are the ones that an organisation with CAMRA’s aims would prefer to see remain open and thriving. They also appear to be the ones at most risk from developers. We need to watch the trend with caution.
Tony Hedger