According to the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA), thirty-one British pubs a week are closing, with planning regulations supermarket takeovers being blamed.
Tom Stainer, head of communications at Camra, said: “It is utterly perverse that developers are able to demolish or convert a pub into a convenience store … without any requirement to apply for planning permission. It is wrong that communities are left powerless when a popular local pub is threatened with demolition or conversion into a Tesco store.”
Free market exponents may view that property, especially freehold, should be left to the sole discretion of the owner, within reason. However, CAMRA’s blind spot on horrific pub closures, which they have sheepishly never commented on for seven years, is the smoking ban.
One of the excuses for bringing in the ban was to protect staff from the “harm” of second hand smoke (SHS). Mike Benner the CEO of CAMRA on 2004 seemed initially to be onside. “In many pubs there is a simple solution. Where there are two or more entirely separate rooms, smoking could be allowed in one, while rooms where food is served could be smoke-free.
However, by 2007, probably after Gerry Sutcliffe MP who was then the Labour Party’s Minister for pubs had been in discussions with Benner, changed their minds. CAMRA prophesised that 840,000 new customers were eager to go to the pub for the first time.
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), the anti-smoker group, in 2003 accused the industry of “crying wolf” over pub closures if a smoking ban was to be voted in.
However a small clue of what was to befall the pub industry was provided by Wetherspoons. Forty-nine of their pubs went smoke free pre-ban and the results were stark. Profits dropped 20 percent, revenues by 7.6 percent, alcohol sales 17.6 percent and fruit machine earnings by 25 percent. They abandoned the policy within 6 months.
If CAMRA want empirical evidence, these are the weekly pub closures pre-ban: 12, 13, 8, 8, 8 and post-ban: 27, 38, 26, 28, 25 and now running at 31.
The British Institute of Inn Keeping noted fourteen months after the ban: The proportion of smoking customers dropped from 54 percent to 38 percent; 66 percent reported that their smoking customers were staying for shorter periods; 75 percent reported that smokers were visiting less frequently; 47 percent of businesses had laid off staff, although 5 percent had recruited additional staff; Income from drinks fell by 9.8 percent; Income from gaming machines fell by 13.5 percent.
They concluded that the smoking ban has had a serious and continuing effect on trade, with the very important custom of smokers much diminished, and little positive news in terms of increased non-smoker or family business.
Since 2007, we have lost over 16,000 pubs, with 150,000 workers being made unemployed.
CAMRA and others are quick to blame cheap supermarket alcohol. However, in March 2007 four months before the smoking ban in England, CAMRA’s Research Manager Ian Loe wrote to the Competition Commission stating:
“Research by CAMRA in the period just before Christmas, found that supermarkets were selling Fosters and Carling for the equivalent of 54p a pint…a pint of beer in a pub 148p to 213p from 1995 to 2005…the cost of supermarket lager ..the average price is down from 70.8p to 67.4p..”
To underline that alcohol is as expensive as it was pre ban, in 2006 a bottle of Smirnoff Red Label Vodka was £9.79 and today is £16.00. Four cans of Fosters was then 3.53 and £3.79 today and a bottle of Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon £5.72 versus £9.99.
Maybe Paul Nuttall of UKIP seems to say what many are thinking, “The smoking ban also severely hit pubs right across the country – if landlords want a well-ventilated room set aside for smokers they should be able to make that choice. Indeed, the Morning Advertiser the publican’s trade newspaper found that seven out of ten landlords would like to offer choice to customers.
Hilaire Belloc wrote “But when you have lost your Inns drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England.” The smoking ban has been the catalyst for the decimation of UK pubs, which shows no signs of abating.