The number of pubs closing each week is falling! From a high of 27 pubs a week six moths ago, to "only" 21 a week now. In 2014, the numbers closing weekly averaged 33. Significantly, the total number of pubs has fallen by a fifth in the last decade to around 52,000. According to CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, the closures have affected rural and suburban pubs in a disproportionate manner which is rather concerning, with suburban pubs suffering most with 317 pubs lost in the last six months.
While to some extent the rural losses are, if not understandable, at least explainable, but the loss of suburban pubs is particularly disappointing. I know from my own experience that here in Middleton, our Langley estate which had around 10 pubs around ten years ago, has dropped to, depending on how you attribute the area, to either one or none. This likely means that vast swathes of the country have no pubs within their immediate area. No nipping out for a quick one unless you catch a bus is unlikely to encourage on trade drinking or a casual pint just down the road.
The picture on the whole remains gloomy, with likely rises in food prices, national minimum wage, high taxes and increasing wholesale prices adding to the feeling that such gains as there have been being wiped out. In fact CAMRA boss Tim Page has said this could happen all too readily if there isn't another beer duty cut. I wonder with all the uncertainty over Brexit if this is a realistic hope.
At the same time another worrying double whammy has been announced. The Yorkshire Post has an interesting piece about the numbers of pubs and bars in financial difficulty. They say "An increasingly large number of pubs are
going bust as landlords wrestle with a perfect storm of poor weather,
England’s abysmal performance at Euro 2016, Brexit and the introduction
of the National Living Wage, a report has claimed. Figures from insolvency specialist Begbies Traynor show that the
number of pubs and bars which were dissolved in the second quarter
increased 53 per cent to 831. The research also reveals that one in five pubs and bars faces “significant financial distress”, also up from last year."
Now of course not all pubs that suffer financial failure will close, but the underlying precariousness of the pub game is highlighted by the difficulties landlords face. Anecdotal evidence says that people are cautious about spending following the Brexit vote and with margins already tight, many more pubs are likely to face, at best, reduced circumstances. Around sixty percent of consumers expect the general economic situation to worsen in the next year. If that gloom does drive them to drink, it is likely to be at home rather than out in the local - if you still have one.
While CAMRA is right to highlight minor successes, it looks to me that unless things change dramatically - and that seems unlikely - that the bottom of this deep trench has not yet been reached.
On a brighter note beer sales have stabilised somewhat following beer duty cuts, but much of that is in the off trade.
CAMRA Chairman Colin Valentine rightly advises people to use their local pub as much as possible. More than ever it really is "Use it or lose it". Mind you if you look at the photo, I was saying that over ten years ago in Issue 2 of our then new Branch Magazine.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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