Buried amongst all the pre-General Election hysteria, was a story that was first broke by the Morning Advertiser, before featuring briefly on BBC News. Newly released figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), show that for the year which ended in March 2019 the UK’s pub stock increased by 320.
This is the first net increase since 2010, and follows a decade in which the number of pubs in the UK declined by an average of 732 each year. Although small, the rise marks a turnaround following years of decline, and demonstrates that despite rising levels of excise duty, changes to business rates and a new generation of young people who don’t drink much, the pub industry is fighting back.
Unsurprisingly, large pub groups, such as Wetherspoon's, are responsible for much of the growth, suggesting that larger and more profitable pubs may be more resilient to the aforementioned forces. If proof were needed, Tim Martin, founder and boss of the Wetherspoon chain, recently announced plans to spend £200m on expansion, an investment he said would create 10,000 jobs
With more investment in larger premises and more potential to increase turnover and hence drive revenue, larger pubs, such as Wetherspoon’s, are more resilient than their smaller brethren. Indeed, it is a sad fact, that once shut, smaller pubs have a tendency to remain closed.
Communities have also been exercising powers to save their local from redevelopment, in the form of ACV’s, whilst other factors, such as relief on business rates, has also helped some pubs.
CAMRA chairman Nik Antona, said that whilst the Campaign welcomed this slight increase in the number of open pubs nationally, pubs unfortunately continue to close, particularly in small or rural communities. This meant the loss of the social, cultural and economic benefits that come with a well run local. He added, “To ensure pubs survive and thrive, they need a fair tax system and stability going forward.”
A spokesman said, “We would cautiously welcome any good news for pubs, however our own data suggests a higher base of pubs, and has shown higher closure rates for the last five years. In the New Year we will be able to report 2019 pub numbers versus 2018.”
According to a regional breakdown of the figures, the increase shown in the ONS statistics was driven almost entirely by a rise in the number of pubs in England, which recorded an increase of 345. Wales ended the year with 25 fewer pubs, Scotland declined by five whilst Northern Ireland increased by the same amount.