Last orders for small pubs?

Nearly one in four pubs have closed since 2008, ONS says

Smaller pubs have closed in higher numbers, with a general move towards larger units

ALMOST one in four pubs across the UK has closed in the past decade, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), prompting trade groups to renew calls for government intervention to stem the losses through support for the sector.

The ONS report, Economies of Ale, revealed that since 2001, more than 13,000 of the UK’s pubs have closed, with the steepest drop occurring in the past ten years; since 2008 more than 11,000 (23%) pubs have closed, taking the total number in operation across the UK from around 50,000 in 2008 to 38,815 in 2018.

Small pubs are said to have been the worst affected, with both independent operators and pub companies moving away from that model and instead focusing on larger venues, according to the ONS figures.

In Scotland, where the total number of pubs has fallen by 21% from 3595 in 2001 to 2840 in 2018, the closures vary significantly from area to area.

East Ayrshire and East Renfrewshire are said to have suffered the heaviest losses, in percentage terms, with both areas containing 40% less pubs in 2018 compared with 2001. East Ayrshire had 100 pubs in 2001, but now has 60, while East Renfrewshire now has 10 fewer pubs than in 2001.

Heavier populated localities, such as Glasgow City and Edinburgh City, have seen smaller percentage declines (16% and 14% respectively), but this translates to 75 fewer pubs in Glasgow and 65 fewer in Edinburgh.

However, pub numbers have risen in some areas, including East Dunbartonshire (20%) and the Highlands (14%).

Despite the closures, the total turnover of pubs and bars across the UK is said to have remained flat since 2008, once inflation is taken into account.

And employment is said to be slightly up, which the ONS attributes to the closure of smaller pubs and the growing focus on serving food.

Tourism is also said to be behind pockets of growth, such as in the Highlands, where employment has risen by 56% since 2001; there are now 1250 jobs in the north compared to 800 in 2001.

Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the Scottish Beer & Pub Association, said the ONS report “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,” she said.

“This means they are under increasing financial pressure from every angle, which is driving closures.”

While Simmonds welcomed the freeze on beer tax in this year’s Budget, she warned: “Unless more is done to help alleviate the cost pressures pubs face however, they will continue to close and jobs will be lost.”

UK Hospitality chief executive, Kate Nicholls, said the ONS data highlights the urgent need for support for the sector, warning that “unless rising costs are addressed, pubs will continue to close”.