Economies of ale: small pubs close as chains focus on big bars

By Binzy Reynolds:

As has been widely reported, the number of pubs in the UK has declined in recent years. New data published recently by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), shows not only how many pubs have closed but where these closures have occurred and what types of pubs have closed.

The number of pubs in the UK has shrunk from around 52,500 in 2001 to 38,815 in 2018. However, overall turnover has largely held up, falling by 8%, taking account of inflation, while the numbers employed have actually increased by 6%.



Figures show the number of small pubs, (those employing up to nine people) has decreased by 40% between 2001 and 2018 from 38,830 to 22,840, while the number of medium and large pubs, (those employing more than nine people) has increased by 17% from 13,670 to 15,975. Meanwhile, the total employment of small pubs has dropped 41%, while employment by medium and large pubs has grown by 29%.

The closures are dominated by small independent and tenanted pubs, down 12,035 (-36%) between 2001 and 2018, while the number of large managed pubs grew by 720 (+47%).

The local authority that saw the biggest rise in the number of pubs between 2001 and 2018 was Hackney, (+30 pubs), while the council area that saw the biggest fall was Birmingham, (down 220 pubs).

In addition, the figures for England & Wales highlight different patterns in urban and rural areas, with the number of urban pubs down 8,730, (-26%), and their employment down 2%, while the number of rural pubs was down 2,815, (-21%), with their employment actually up 24%.



In Cornwall, there are 9.7 pubs per 10,000 people, which is far higher than the UK average of 5.8 pubs per 10,000 people. Cornwall appears to have fared better than most regions against the closure of pubs. We now have 545 pubs, compared with 575 pubs in 2001, a loss of only thirty. Employment provided by pubs has increased dramatically since 2001. The county now provides over 7,000 jobs in pubs or bars compared to 4,500 in 2001, an increase of 55.6%. A possible explanation for this upward trend could be that many pubs converted their old lounge bars into restaurants to cater for tourists, therefore requiring more staff.

It has been suggested, as large and powerful pub chains open more establishments, they will sell food and drinks far cheaper than smaller pubs, forcing them out of business. The effect on small pubs could be catastrophically similar to the effect supermarket chains had on greengrocers in the 1970s and 1980s.

Are the days of the small pub numbered?




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