Last Orders: Are UK Pubs on the Decline?

Posted on 25 November, 2015 by Chris Grigorovsky

British pubs have been at the heart of the social scene for decades, with thousands of loyal patrons across the nation flocking to their local public houses for a good night out with friends and family. However, the landscape has seen a dramatic change over the last decade and the once bustling environments have become but a distant memory, with pubs closing down at a rapid rate. So where has this bitter taste come from and is it last orders on the UK pub sector?

Last Orders: Are UK Pubs on the Decline?

Under Threat

In an article published on IOL, it reported that the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) said that “Pubs are currently under threat as never before” and made a statement earlier this year that revealed 29 pubs are being closed every week. Also, official reports shows that since 2004, alcohol consumption has fallen around 18 per cent, while binge drinking amongst young people has seen a decline by 30 per cent.

The Closures

The number of pubs closing is staggering. According to The Lost Pubs Project, a website that is dedicated to archiving all of the closed pubs throughout England, there are currently 29,191 pubs that have been lost. It states that up to four pubs are closing every day of the week, making it the highest rate of closures since the introduction of the 1904 Compensation Act, which saw 10 per cent of pubs closing. Throughout the UK, pubs are suffering the same fate and are either being demolished or turned into residential or retail plots.

Reports on the British Beer Pub Association website state that over the last ten years, pubs in the UK have seen a rapid decline, with nearly 10,000 perishing in that time-frame. It shows that over a decade ago, in 2002, the number of pubs in the UK was 60,100 and then in 2014, there was only 51,900 open. That’s nearly 10,000 pubs in the span of ten years which have been taken out to pasture. There is only 48,000 in existence England today. Long gone are the days of its popularity, with the 1980s being its peak, having 67,800 pubs open. So what is causing this dramatic decline in a once booming sector?

You could look at it from the perspective of the consumer, where the price of alcohol is at a higher amount than it has ever been. This in turn is driving them away and resorting to other ways of recreational activity. Which leads into another aspect of the changing of the times, where bars, restaurants and clubs are becoming more popular amongst the masses. They are able to offer more contemporary facilities to different age groups. This is having an adverse affect across the nation.

Most Affected Areas

The lost pubs website has every single county in the UK listed and shows how many pubs are closed down in each one. One of the biggest and most affected areas for pub closures is London, which currently has 3,949 closed. This is quite a substantial number and with London being full of vibrant night life, it sets a gloomy tone for the rest of the UK. Further north in the Yorkshire county, 2,650 pubs have closed their doors. This is followed closely by Lancashire, which includes major cities like Manchester and Liverpool, has seen 2,638 closures. Staffordshire is another county that is woefully affected, with 1,055 pubs closed to date, along with Kent and Hampshire also seeing a significant hit, with 1,559 and 1,225 respectively. Times have indeed changed for the sector, however, it still does good things for the UK economy.

Positive Contributions

In a document by the British Beer Pub Association entitled ‘The Beer Story- Facts on Tap 2015’, it reported that the pub sector alone contributes to nearly 900,000 jobs, with 46 per cent being 16-24 year olds. It can create a number of jobs throughout a variety of sectors, including agriculture, supply and retail. Its financial impact is fairly substantial, bringing in £13 billion in tax revenue and contributing £22 billion to UK GDP. The report also says that the pub sector provides community services, such as Post Offices, local shops and broadband internet access. On paper, it clearly shows that this sector has numerous positive affects on society, but not too long ago it suffered its first major blow.

The Roadblock

A substantially dark period between 2008 and 2013 loomed over the pub sector. The beer duty escalator was introduced and made a catastrophic impact, with beer tax increasing by 42 per cent. This is turn damaged the sector and affected every day people. This was seen as the hardest that the sector had ever been hit and within this five year period alone, 7,000 pubs were closed and 58,000 jobs lost. The inflation in duty has caused beer to still be overtaxed, despite the 2013 and 2014 budget acknowledging the unique social and economic benefits of pubs. Britons in 2013 ended up paying 40 per cent of the overall EU beer duty despite only consuming 12 per cent. To this day, the aftermath of this event is still trying to be rectified and it is expected to take years to fix, according to the report. Tax has been the biggest issue plaguing the pub scene. In the 2015 budget, it showed a planned 2.1 per cent increase of beer duty and in return this would undermine 2014’s 2 per cent cut for British consumers. All seems bleak at the moment, with slow recovery expected. But is there light at the end of tunnel?

Looking Forward

The pub sector is currently at a testing stage. Society is changing and so are consumer’s attitudes. Beer duty is one of the most important factors to take into consideration as any changes made will help exponentially to the overall successes of the sector. The Beer Story document explains that if beer duty is reduced, then this will in the long run help keep drinking affordable in pubs to attract the consumers and keep them coming to the establishments across the UK, as well as securing thousands of additional jobs.

How can this be achieved?

One of the best ways to improve the overall success and saviour of UK pubs is by adapting to the ever changing times. Many establishments fail to meet the expectations of today’s consumer and sees the interest dwindle as time goes on. Old fashioned pubs that cater to the purely alcohol consuming demographic are suffering the most. People want more from their experience in a pub, which is why many of them are beginning to adapt and add services that are not usually seen or expected in a pub, such as crèche facilities and providing a variety of meals. If pub owners across the nation can adapt and be imaginative with the services that they offer to their punters, then staying on par with the likes of bars and restaurants can be achievable.


What do you think the fate of our nation’s pubs is going to be in the coming years? Will it rise to the occasion and be drinks all round? Or will it go the way of stale beer? Give us your thoughts in the comment section below.

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