Small Pubs Close As Chains Focus On Big Bars

4454326_281a711aSince 2008, nearly a quarter of pubs in the UK have closed – but the turnover of the pub industry is holding up and employment is on the rise according to a report.

More than 11,000 pubs have closed in the UK in the last decade – a fall of almost a quarter (23%). Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysis shows that it’s small pubs that are disappearing, as the big pub chains consolidate their businesses around bigger bars.

The closure of British pubs is a well-known story. Organisations like the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and the British Beer and Pub Associationhave charted the disappearance of pubs for many years.

ONS data confirm the large fall in the number of pubs, from around 50,000 pubs in 2008 to around 39,000 pubs in 2018.

Almost one in four pubs have closed since 2008

But these figures don’t tell the full story of how the UK pub trade is doing. Although lots of pubs have closed, the total turnover of pubs and bars has held up, remaining flat since 2008, once inflation is taken into account. The remaining pubs and bars appear to have soaked up the custom from those pubs that have closed down.

Turnover stable since recession

Employment figures back this up: while the number of jobs in pubs dipped during the economic downturn, there are now 6% more jobs in pubs and bars than there were in 2008. The largest increases have been in bigger pubs (those with 10 or more employees). This may be because pubs are increasingly focussed on serving food as well as drink, which requires more waiting and kitchen staff.

More jobs in pubs, especially big ones

In 2008, pubs in the UK had a median number of five employees. By 2018, partly due to the closure of many smaller pubs, this had increased to eight employees.

The rise in employment has been more pronounced in rural pubs, where in 2018 total employment in England and Wales is up 17% compared with 2008. In contrast, total employment in urban pubs rose by only 4% over the same period.

Most jobs in the sector are low paid: around 70% of workers in pubs and bars are paid less than the Living Wage Foundation’s Living Wage. This rate, currently £10.55 per hour in London and £9 per hour elsewhere, is sometimes called the “real” living wage, and is based upon full-time workers being able to afford a basic set of goods and services.

CAMRA’s Chief Campaigns and Communications Officer Tom Stainer said: “These shocking new figures show the huge loss that has been felt by communities up and down the country as beloved locals have closed down. By focussing on the stability of turnover from pubs and bars since the recession this study fails to measure the loss of the benefits that local pubs bring to their communities. Pubs play a unique role in offering a social environment to enjoy a drink with friends, they help combat isolation and loneliness and help people feel connected to their community.

“With a quarter of pubs closing in the last decade, we need the government to act now to save our pubs from extinction.

“That’s why CAMRA has launched a three-point plan to save the Great British pub, calling for urgent reform to business rates, an urgent and full review of the Pubs Code, and a lower rate of duty for beer sold in pubs.”

Beer and Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds commented:

“This new report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reflects our own data and research which shows that many pubs are struggling.

“Pubs face a number of cost pressures, from high taxes in the form of beer duty, VAT and business rates, to wage increases and food inflation. This means they are under increasing financial pressure from every angle, which is driving closures.

“The pub sector is proud of its role as a major UK employer and so the ONS data showing that pubs are employing more people than ever before is welcome news. This reflects that many smaller pubs are closing and larger pubs will inevitably employ more people. Pubs are also diversifying their offer to create an experience that appeals to the changing needs of consumers, hence the transition towards more food and entertainment-led establishments. Pubs now serve one billion meals each year and have 50,000 bedrooms. They are a vital part of both our international and domestic tourism market.

“Unless more is done to help alleviate the cost pressures pubs face however, they will continue to close and jobs will be lost. Under the beer duty escalator alone (2008-2013), beer tax rose by 42%. During that time beer sales fell by 24% in pubs. This caused 5,000 pubs to close.

“The Chancellor’s decision in the Budget to freeze beer tax and lower business rates for thousands of pubs will make a real difference to the viability of the sector moving forward – particularly the local, community pubs that the ONS data shows are disappearing.

“More still needs to be done though to save those pubs that are most at risk from closure. This is why we continue to support the Long Live the Local campaign, which celebrates the vital role local, community pubs play in our lives across the UK, and calls on the government to reduce the cost pressures they are under.”