Pubs | UK

7,000 pub closures in a decade

Pubs are an integral part of English culture. But their number is declining dramatically.
IMAGO / Loop Images
Pubs are an integral part of English culture. But their number is declining dramatically.

For tourists, pubs are as much a part of England as the Queen or driving on the left. But Britons are increasingly reluctant to go to the pubs - of which there are fewer and fewer. Is this the beginning of the end of a tradition?

In more and more pubs in England, the famous bell sounds for the last time for the final order. "Last orders!" it is said not only for bar patrons, but also for the pubs themselves. The number of pubs in England and Wales fell below 40,000 - 39,973 to be exact - in the first half of the year, according to an analysis published this week by property consultant Altus Group. That's 7,000 fewer than a decade ago, it said, and more importantly, fewer pubs than ever before.

"These figures are truly shocking but will come as no surprise to many in the industry. The overwhelming burden of taxation – particularly business rates - and red tape will have proved too much for many licensees", comments Kate Nicholls, CEO of industry body UKHospitality .

"The current economic crisis increases the chances of further decline, with soaring costs in energy, food and drink, a higher VAT rate, falling consumer confidence and an acute labour shortage. For businesses struggling to repay Covid-related debt this could simply be too much."

Pandemic has only exacerbated the trend

The numbers paint a dramatic picture. The pub die-off began long ago, and the Corona pandemic has only exacerbated the trend. The reasons are many: the smoking ban, cheaper alcohol in supermarkets or even changed drinking behavior. In addition, pub owners complain about beer taxes, which were among the highest in the world. Most recently, pubs were also hit by strikes on British railroads, fewer commuters were out and about, and no one was strolling through the city centers. That cost him 25 percent of his revenue, said Clive Watson, founder of London pub chain City Pub Group.

Most importantly, recovery from the pandemic is being hampered by huge inflation, which has risen to its highest level in decades. The cost of energy and goods has skyrocketed. As the trade associations British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), British Institute of Innkeeping and UK Hospitality found, only just over a third (37 percent) of establishments are operating profitably. "As an industry we have just endured the toughest two years in living memory and now face the challenge of extremely rising costs," said BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin.

Instead of leasing pubs, owners are having them converted into apartments or office space. The spaces are often centrally located, making them extremely attractive. According to Altus figures, around 200 pubs in England and Wales have disappeared since the end of 2021 alone.

The industry is now calling for renewed government help - partly because Corona support such as lower VAT rates and frozen commercial property taxes ended. "It is vital that we get relief to ease these pressures or we risk losing even more pubs year on year," stresses Emma McClarkin.

"If pubs are forced to close, it will mean a huge loss to local communities," McClarkin said. The Localis think tank also pointed to the central role pubs play in communities back in spring 2021. For many people, it said, going to the pub is a way to get out of their homes and socialize with friends and neighbors. In other words, loneliness and social isolation are avoided. If pubs were lost, especially in rural areas, this could endanger the social cement, Localis warned.