A recent report tells us that the number of pubs in England and Wales currently stands at its lowest ever. According to the property consultants, Altus Group, the total number of pubs fell below 40,000 earlier this year, a reduction of over 7,000 over the last ten years. Their view is that many pubs battled through the pandemic period only now to fall prey to soaring energy costs, tax rises and inflation. London, they say, lost 24 pubs in the first six months of 2022 (from 3,604 to 3,580). The coverage of the report was however not clear as to whether their figures are net of new openings, although new openings tend not to be what we would identify as pubs.
According to the British Beer & Pub Association, the trade body for the pub owning businesses (POBs), only 37% of businesses in the hospitality sector are making any money. They also mention staff recruitment as a major problem. A useful contribution to the debate was made by Andy Wood, the chief executive of Adnams, on the BBC Radio Four Today Programme on 2 July. He observed that people were now going out earlier than before, possibly a legacy of Covid, and that pubs were often quiet by 9pm. People are also now, inevitably, spending less. He particularly identified energy costs as a problem, along with raw material costs, especially barley. He advocated a reduction in VAT.
The situation has longer term consequences. There appears to be a trend for the owners of independent pubs to be forced by financial pressures to sell up, usually to one of the large POBs. Even if the pub subsequently remains open, it represents a loss of choice for customers and probably an outlet for local independent brewers.
So, what can we pub-lovers do? CAMRA will continue to lobby the Government for increased support for pubs, not least the long overdue full review of business rates. Please still use pubs, your local especially, even if you can’t spend as much as you used to. Perhaps have a meal in a pub instead of sending for a takeaway? It isn’t easy for any of us, so just do what you can.
CASK BEER AVAILABILITY
I have received the following note from reader John Morris, which touches on the above theme.
‘Reading the latest edition of London Drinker, I have been alarmed at the number of pubs notifying that they will no longer sell real ale. Do we know the reasons for this and can anything be done to stop, or better still reverse this trend. This message is intended for publication and for hopefully a reply.’
I replied to John that my view was that many pubs reduced their beer range – or even stopped selling cask beer – when trade was still very low after Covid. Trade was slowly returning to normal but then came the current cost of living increases and so many pubs have continued with the policy. Cask beer is always likely to be reduced rather than keg beers because of its short shelf life.
There may, of course, be other factors that I have not considered. I invite readers to contribute their views accordingly.