Wednesday, 4 March 2009

More on pubs and why they're closing

Did a pre-record for BBC Radio Bristol earlier on why pubs are closing. Incidentally today's BEP article is a tad misleading - gives a figure of 48 for 'the Bristol area', which turns out to include Weston-super-Mare. I don't think people from Weston (what do you call them, Super Mares?) would regard themselves as being in the Bristol area. It's only 27 closures in Bristol in the last couple of years, although that includes a bit of South Gloucs in Doug Naysmith's seat and doesn't include the two Bristol wards in Roger Berry's constituency.

Anyway, here are some of the reasons I suggested. Be warned - this contains gross generalisations, sexist stereotyping, and the portrayal of a mythical Britain that probably never existed.

1. Changing demographics in east Bristol - many more houses being converted into flats, which means they become inhabited by young people who don't frequent their neighbourhood pubs. They're far more likely to stay in during the week and rent a DVD or get a take-away, and then go out in the city centre bars at the weekend. Or they have young kids and have no social life at all. And an increase in the Somali population too, who being Muslim don't drink.

2. More TV channels and the internet - in the days of 3 channels people would go to the pub if there was nothing decent on telly. Now they can watch loads of channels, or spend hours on the internet. I guess more ways of communicating with people also has an impact - people would in the past have turned up at the pub in the expectation of seeing the same faces there; now it's easier to arrange to do something different instead, or to text or call someone on their mobile if they're in the pub but you can't be bothered to go out. And all the single men are playing computer games.

3. Changing work patterns and role of men/ women - in the olden days, which I remember well, men would go out to work, come home at 5.30 to find their dinner on the table, and then go off to the pub. Now men work longer hours, get home later (possibly after going for a drink straight after work in the city centre), have to cook their own dinner or at least wait for it to be cooked when their wife/ partner gets in from work too. And they'd get a hard time from the wife if they cleared off to the pub every night leaving her to do the washing up. Also - I think maybe men and women talk to each other more these days? By which I mean, women talk and men grunt occasionally to maintain the pretext of listening.

4. People go out to eat more. In the olden days, people very rarely used to go for a meal. Perhaps on special occasions. Now, whenever I meet up with friends, it's nearly always for a meal, with perhaps a quick drink beforehand (although if it's just the lads in my circle of friends getting together, it would be a night in the pub, followed by a kebab).

5. Women and men socialise together more, and women don't like spit and sawdust, beer and darts.

6. Supermarkets are selling very cheap alcohol. People are more health-conscious and men are trying to drink less beer. They're more likely to crack open a bottle of wine at home these days.

7. Less tolerance of drink-driving, and people not being prepared to walk more than half a mile anywhere.

8. The economic downturn. Pubs are small businesses and just like any other business they will struggle when times are tougher.

9. Pubs aren't what they used to be. Irish theme pubs, soulless chains... although actually some pubs are a lot better than they used to be. Those that are thriving might offer decent food, or have Sky Sports on widescreen TV, or have quiz nights. But does that put some people off?

10. Some would say the smoking ban. But we are not going there on this post, and according to the Public Health Minister who I spoke to earlier today and who, I believe, attended the 'Axe the Beer Tax' event in Parliament, there is absolutely no evidence for this.

Comments welcome on points 1 to 9. We've done 10.


Dick the Prick said...

Over analysing it. Big brewery's screw tenant landlords.

SteveL said...

A recent historic pressure -that will have gone away now- was the money to be made turning a pub into housing. I was very disappointed on a long cycle to cheddar to discover that the pub in Buttcombe -marked on my OS map- was now housing.

In a village like that, the loss of a pub is a disaster. Whereas in whiteladies road, the bankruptcy of a chain and loss of a pub is barely noticeable. We need to consider which pubs matter to the city -everyone should have the right to a pub in walking distance- and focus on them. How to help them? Get out there and drink beer.

The Grim Reaper said...

Blimey, Tom Harris and now Kerry McCarthy...

Two Labour MPs write something sensible on their blogs on the same day. If this is what happens when Harperson does PMQs, let us have her doing it more often!

Kerry said...

It's a bit like post offices - people hardly use them, but want them there for when they do.

westcoast2 said...

A contributing factor to 2-9 is probably 10.

2-9 (except 8) seemed to also be factors prior to July 2007 and yet the figures you gave ealier showed no decline.

So 8 is a factor and not to mention 10 (again)

Kerry said...

We need to see stats before 2005, agreed.

Bristol Dave said...

My take on it:

I'm not sure the smoking ban has really made that much difference. Maybe a tiny difference, but every smoker I know still goes to the pub and doesn't have a problem with having to go outside.

The economic downturn has something to do with it - people having less disposable income to go drinking.

However, the reasons pub landlords suggest cannot be ignored...

"Industry claims new rules force pubs out of business"

"Country pubs must process own sewage - strict quality requirements require huge investment in treatment facilities"

"Any pub with more than four staff must offer pension scheme"

"Bull's Head spent £20,000 on new toilet to comply with disability act, but ran into trouble with council's conservation department"

"tax on beer is up 18% since the last budget."

"...the industry will demand a reduction in tax and an easing of the regulation they say throttles pubs across the country."

""So many British institutions will disappear because of all this legislation," he says."

Looks like they're in no doubt as to what factors contribute strongly. No surprises there then!

Anonymous said...

Breweries do tend to screw their tenants for every penny, demographics are constantly changing, if pubs don't, or can't,adapt to serve their community the building is better put to another use.
How many Bar's, Cafe's and other nightspots opened in the same period? Yet they aren't deemed worthy of being mentioned. So this does seem to be a slightly misleading figure, concocted by the media in place of real journalism.

The Filthy Engineer said...

1) Maybe

2) Certainly not TV. It's really crap. But at least you can smoke in your own home

3)With two earners you would think they would both go out.

4)If they go out to eat more, why are they not using the pubs? Most do good food these days.

5)When have you seen spit and sawdust in pubs lately, let alone darts?

6)They can smoke at home. At the moment that is.

7)A popular pub in the centre of our village is closing.

8)They would attract a great many more customers if customers could smoke inside.

9)We have very good local traditional pubs in my area. And to be truthfull several theme pubs. However they have all seen a drop in custom.

10) No I won't go there

Old Holborn said...

How the hell are you qualified to talk about pubs closing?

(I drink in the Prince of Wales, Gloucester Road)

Kerry said...

@greenbristol Not sure whether stats refer solely to pubs although that's how they were presented. I suspect bars would be included, but not restaurants with a licence. Don't know about nightclubs.

@TheFilthyEngineer - loads of pubs have dartboards. Maybe not in chocolate box village gastro-pubs, but in east Bristol there are plenty. We get turfed out of our monthly meeting at St George Labour Club because the darts team need the room. OK it's a club, but it's basically the local pub for the good folk of St George. They also have skittles. I will Twitter on this and feed back the results!

timbone said...

Kerry, you may not put this up. It is however something I want to say, so even if you don't, at least you have seen it. I hope you do though.

The statement I am about to make is not about amendment, it is about honesty.
Why oh why does the government and large breweries try to give other reasons for the pub crisis when it is glaringly obvious what the cause is. The government took the advice from ASH and other charities that a total smoking ban would not harm trade, they even said that it would improve because more non smokers would start going. This was wrong, and pubs began to close at an alarming rate within weeks of 1st July 2007.
The government could say something like this.
'We made a mistake, based on bad advice, about certain businesses not suffering from a complete smoking ban, We have no intention of amending it. If we loose every traditional British pub for ever, we don't care'.
If the government said this, at least they would be being honest.
Just one other point. I have noticed that when an organisation causes a large problem, like banks for example, they are held to account, questioned and dealt with publicly. This government were given bad advice by ASH in particular about the effect of the smoking ban on pubs and clubs, advice which was not even evidence based. So why are the government not holding them to account for the loss of thousands of livelyhoods and loss of revenue.

Chris Hutt said...

"It's a bit like post offices - people hardly use them, but want them there for when they do."

Or MPs?

Kerry said...

Perhaps I should have made clear - no problem with you posting on the impact of the smoking ban on the earlier post, with the stats. I would just prefer to have a different conversation here, as otherwise there would be no point mentioning anything except the ban. One proviso though. Keep them short. Couple of paras, fine. Timbone, pushing it.

Kerry said...

On Dick's first comment - and then they sell off to developers for housing? Seems to be something of a trend but what else do you do with an empty pub? Does the intention to develop come before or after the closure?

Antony said...

Well whatever, I stopped being a regular at my local when the smoking ban came in. No other factor - just that. If the situation changes I will return, until then I will enjoy my beer and a cigarette at home.

Curmudgeon said...

I disagree with Kerry over the smoking ban, but it's good to see a politician actually applying some thought to the subject. You might even think she'd been reading this.

My view (as a regular pubgoer) is that the smoking ban has taken at least 10% of the wet trade out of pubs (particularly at lunchtimes and early in the week) and has pushed a large number of pubs over the edge.

Simon said...

Pubs are closing for a number of reasons. This is just my view:

1. They are overpriced and as the recession begins to bite people tighten their belts and choose to drink at home for a fraction of the price - as a recent graduate I don’t earn all that much as I'm a first jobber and have student debts (like many people) and I can't even alternate one drink with one soft drink to take the sting out as the pubs charge the same for a soft drink as they do a pint. I remember from my student days many landlords explaining that this is to force people into drinking beer as they don't want to encourage non drinkers into their pubs. What they do forget is that many people prefer to have a few drinks and a few non alcoholic drinks (especially during the week when you don’t want to turn up to work with a hangover) as a result they are forcing many people to turn their back on pubs. Visiting a pub is now a rich man's hobby especially when a round of drinks for your mates costs £20 imagine just doing that three times a week can mean more than 10 to 15% of income after tax - it's just unaffordable.

2. Working hours are definately a factor - if I get out of work by six I know that it will take me an hour to get home so if I and my friends do go out for a drink it will be straight after work - even on fridays.

3. More is expected from local pubs - you can't just open, put a price list up and expect a roaring trade. You have to diversify and the market now demands food and sports channels, fire places etc etc. Atmosphere and design are important factors.

4. has anyone ever considered that apart from the smoking ban (which I don't believe actually has as big an impact as people suggest) other campaigns have been just as detrimental. a - drink driving campaigns - it's no longer acceptable to jump in your car and head to the pub meaning that people don't go out as much as they used to especially in villages with little or no public transport b - the anti alcohol and count your units campaigns. I don't think you can deny that these secondary effects have had a detrimental although for the greater good effect on the pub trade.

Michael said...

My wife and I don't go to pubs any more for a few reasons and the main one is that for years there were no non-smoking pubs and very little non-smoking areas. (My wife is asthmatic and can not be too long in a smoky pub.) As a result we just stopped going and started enjoying ourselves at home away from smoke and aggressive drunks.

Post smoking ban has seen us go to the pub one or twice but since we've spent so much away from them they don't play any part in our social life any more.

Certainly the lack of effort to support us non-smokers, pre-ban, when the pubs were doing well will certainly be reciprocated by a similar lack of effort from us to go back when the pubs are starting to do badly. They didn't care about our trade in the past and we certainly don't care about them now.

timbone said...

Michael, you make a very good point concerning your wifes discomfort in a smoky atmosphere. It was always a concern to me that pubs did not cater for those with pulmonary conditions such as asthma.
Some of the larger pubs did have a separate area. Unfortunately, it was often just a no smoking area with no suitable separation or ventilation.
Following the 1998 Government White Paper "Smoking Kills", the hospitality industry agreed to make suitable provision for non smokers. Many did nothing. Many made a nominal effort which did not cost them anything. There were a few places who made the non smoking area a more substantial size, and also invested in state of the art ventilation. Some single room pubs did this, and non smokers were amazed that the air became virtually smoke free.
Unfortunately, the industry as a whole did not do enough, and are now facing the consequenses.
As a smoker and a memeber of Freedom2Choose, I would never advocate a return to smoke filled pubs, just a choice for pubs to be smoking, non smoking, or providing a room for smokers with adequate ventilation.

Jonathan Campbell said...

Since the smoking ban I never go to the pub unless there is a very good reason, I used to go 3-4 times a week. The way that the trade started to suffer so soon after the ban was introduced tells me that I was not alone.

My social life has been trashed despite assurances in the 2005 labour manifesto, and I will vote accordingly.