11 August 2022

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Could we be about to lose 12000 pubs?
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Could we be about to lose 12000 pubs?

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Impact of lockdown is beginning to become evident. Can we do anything about it?

Two big topics vying for poll position today but I think the future of the traditional British pub is probably closer to our hearts than world-wide aviation – so aviation next time.

UK Hospitality, a powerful voice in the hospitality industry in the UK, is now predicting that may be as many as 12000 pubs will go out of business and close as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. As we know pubs have been closing over recent years at an enormous rate; smoking bans, drink driving, food hygiene issues and the like have made it very difficult for our pubs but the present crisis piles on the agony of running out of cash and if you run out of cash, how are you going to re-establish? Small pub operators also do not qualify for all the government benefits.

The British pub is one of those great institutions and traditionally they have been great social forums to go and meet your friends. As we know, with the lockdown that has finished for the moment, and if a lot of pubs close, will this great British tradition be restored? Imagine the loss of that greatest social event in the British calendar – traditional roast Sunday lunch at your local.

The latest intelligence from the government is that it is going to take time for business to be restored, and even if the lockdown finishes, will people have the courage to go back out again unless they are confident that the crisis is past?

Moreover, if all these pubs are going to close because of lack of funding, where are the new operators going to come from to open them back up again? Of course there will always be some folk with funds who will come out of the woodwork and bigger groups may look to increase their portfolios. However, bigger groups also bring their own style, usually one designed to maximise takings, and perhaps the “village pub” style landlord is going to become a man of the past, that jolly “Mr Punch” welcoming fellow who is actually interested in his customers. I do believe that what we do not want is a load of new pubs “all made out of ticky tacky and all looking just the same”.

Perhaps this is the time for people to think about clubbing together to buy their local closed businesses and re-establishing them once the crisis is over. There are already many closed pubs on the market and once they close, their value plummets so putting together a local trading entity may not be as expensive as it sounds. It may be a chance for small business to get re-established and truly operate for the benefit of its own local community. This is not to say they should be operated by amateurs or poorly managed but a pooling of resources and support may be what society is going to need. Possibly the community may choose to appoint as their manager the previous incumbent.

The idea is not so far-fetched as it may sound. Over the past few days I have seen two pubs which were sold subject to contract coming back on to the market as “unexpectedly re-available”, and both already closed premises. My heart goes out to the vendors because they had already thought they had a sale. It may be that there is no sale at any price now until the lockdown is over and I anticipate a growing number of such offers.

It may take a while for profits to build up but profits may not be the main focus. Those who have cash in the bank are earning nothing on it so perhaps putting some of that cash into bricks and mortar to help keep their local community afloat may not be such a bad idea and while business is building back up, shareholders might spend their evenings in the pub behind the bar serving instead of in front of it! That would not be a “first”.

Years ago such businesses were set up as members’ clubs but they are a lot less popular today as they are not so easy to run with too many cooks.

Nonetheless this could afford a great opportunity to put businesses back together again with community support, and there will always be the chance of a dividend when things are back to normal.

Adrian Leopard 15-04-20

Photo Michael Cummins

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