EXTRA – Last orders for small pubs?

Last orders for small pubs?

Steve James

Between 2001-2018, the number of pubs across the West Midlands region has nearly halved. So says the Office of National Statistics in its latest report: “Economies of ale: small pubs close as chains focus on big bars” (November 2018). The picture is a little different at national level, where nearly a quarter of pubs have closed since 2008, falling from 50,000 in 2008 to some 39,000 in 2018. However, turnover in the pub industry is holding up and employment is on the rise.

The data also shows that the pubs which remain open tend to be bigger. Overall, there are more jobs in pubs than there were in 2008, with the largest increases being in pubs with 10 or more employees.

Across Worcestershire, the picture is very varied. Since 2001 Worcester has 10 fewer pubs, Bromsgrove lost 15, Wyre Forest has 40 fewer pubs than in 2001 and Wychavon has 20 fewer.

Tom Stainer, CAMRA’s spokesman, said “Pubs are struggling for several reasons. In part it’s because of heavy taxes. For every pint you drink in a pub, a third of the cost is tax. Pubs are finding it difficult to keep their heads above water. The UK has one of the highest rates of alcohol duty in Europe. This has a knock-on effect on pubs, because they must raise prices to make ends meet. Pubs bring investment and employment, and they are community hubs. The way the system works is the more successful they are, the more pubs are punished for doing well. They’re taxed on things like the size of the building, turnover and whether they have a car park – it penalises success”.

“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 focusing on the stability of turnover from pubs and bars since the recession, this study fails to measure the loss of benefits that pubs bring to their communities. Pubs play a unique role in offering a social environment to enjoy a drink with friends, they combat isolation and loneliness and help people feel connected with 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, a full review of the Pubs Code and a lower rate of duty for beer sold in pubs”.

However, craft beer has brought a new lease of life for pubs, and has got young people interested in beer again. The number of craft breweries is rising and there has been a growth in micro-pubs. Weatheroak Brewery moved to Studley in 2009, Pershore Brewery was established in 2015 and Bewdley Brewery extended its taproom in 2018. Other newer breweries include Ambridge (Inkberrow; 2013), Lakehouse (Malvern; 2016), Hop Shed (Suckley; 2016), and Oil Basin Brewhouse (2018) and Sociable Beer Company (2017) in Worcester. Micro-pubs and bars are cropping up in larger towns such as Worcester (Bull Baiters, Firefly and Arch Rivals), Kidderminster (Beer Emporium and Weavers x 2), Bromsgrove (Little Ale House) and Redditch (Black Tap), as well as in smaller places like Tardebigge (Alestones). Black Country Ales has taken over and refurbished local pubs, including the Cross (Finstall), Hollybush (Stourport), Imperial Tavern (Worcester) and Real Ale Tavern (Bewdley), whilst Craddocks (Stourbridge) have reopened the Talbot in Droitwich. More recently Hartlebury brewery has started brewing at the Tap House (Hartlebury). There are pub landlords fighting back against the closures, and transforming pubs that might once have gone bust in the centre of their communities.  

So the message is clear: visit your local…regularly, because it may not be there when you next visit. Long live the local!