Last Call: 2,500 British Pubs Closed For Good During Lockdown, as Less Than Half Reopened on Monday

CARDIFF, WALES - OCTOBER 23: A man drinks a pint outside the Goat Major pub on October 23, 2020 in Cardiff, Wales. Wales will go into a national lockdown from Friday until November 9. People will be told to stay at home and pubs, restaurants, hotels and non-essential shops must …
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Despite jubilation over the partial reopening of pubs in Britain, the industry — which has been under threat for decades — has seen a rapid decline over the past year of lockdowns, with some 2,500 pubs shutting down for good in 2020.

On Monday, pubs were permitted by the government to open back up, however, only those with outdoor seating were actually allowed to serve their customers.

The joy of finally being able to raise a glass with mates was perhaps best typified by the scenes witnessed in Soho in London, which is said to have resembled a carnival atmosphere on the first night of reopening.

When looking at the country at large, however, a bleaker portrait of the economic devastation inflicted upon the sector becomes apparent, with some 2,500 pubs closing their doors for the last time during the pandemic.

Even with the loosening of restrictions, only 40 per cent of all pubs in the UK are expected to have reopened on Monday. Many are still expected to be operating at a loss until the government removes social distancing requirements and allow the businesses to get back to full capacity and serve customers indoors.

During the first week of reopening, taprooms across the country are projected to sell only around 15 million pints, a seventy-five per cent decline from a typical week in April.

The chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, Emma McClarkin told the BBC: “No pub is expecting to profit from reopening outdoors, and many will make a loss,” adding: “Less than half of pubs in England will be reopening and the people they can serve is going to be greatly limited by their outdoor space.”

“Pubs are the heart of our communities and we’ve all missed them. If they are to survive the long-term it’s imperative they fully recover,” McClarkin said.

The chief executive of the British Institute of Innkeeping, Steve Alton warned that the initial reopening phase will be particularly hard for pubs, reporting that 40 per cent will operate on a part-time basis until they are permitted to serve customers inside.

“In order for our pubs to survive, they need to be free of restrictions at the earliest opportunity,” he said.

While the economic hardship faced by the pub industry in Britain was greatly exacerbated during the Chinese coronavirus crisis, the sector has been steadily declining over the past decades.

According to data compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), between 2008 and 2018, the number of pubs in the UK declined by a staggering 11,000, falling from around 50,000 in 2008 to 39,000 in 2018.

The study found that suburban boozers on the outskirts of big cities have seen the sharpest decline, with London commuter belt towns such as Barking and Dagenham, Newham and Luton all seeing the number of pubs cut in half since 2001.

Smaller pubs have been particularly hard hit, with large pub chains, known as “pubcos” (nationwide companies with 250 or more outlets), putting many out of business in the early 2000s.

Campaigners have cited many factors for the decline of the British pub — an institution dating back some 2,000 years —  pointing to rising property prices, the proliferation of cheap booze in supermarkets, the smoking ban, taxes on beer, and taxes on pubs themselves, which are often taxed based on the value of the property itself rather than on the often modest profits they take in.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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