Pete Robinson: The Smoking Ban - three years on...

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Related tags: Pub, Pub property prices, World cup, 2010 fifa world cup

"Pub property prices remain at an all time high and there doesn't appear to be much of a slowdown on the horizon. But back to the stock market, where...

"Pub property prices remain at an all time high and there doesn't appear to be much of a slowdown on the horizon. But back to the stock market, where the pub stocks have had a great year. On a 52 week high-low spread some of the numbers are startling."

"To my mind, this performance has not only demonstrated what a strong, resolute sector we are privileged to work in, but also how adaptable the industry can be to the challenges and changes thrust upon it."

That was Geoff Newton, UK Licensed Trade Director for Barclays Bank, giving his end-of-year appraisal of this industry in December 2006.

Writing in The Publican​, under the heading 'Darlings of the stock market', Newton went on to say: "As we head into 2007 ... I feel that the industry is in good cheer and has every right to look forward to a successful 2007."

And he was quite correct. The trade had every reason for the brightest optimism. After the slow decline throughout the 1990s we'd turned a corner and fought our way back to brimming health.

Total pub numbers had been growing year-on-year since 2002 while Hamish Champ proudly reported in The Publican that pub turnover had soared to a FIVE-YEAR-PEAK with further growth forecast until at least 2011!

The Publican also reported that HALF of that turnover came directly from smoking customers.

It seemed this industry could do no wrong. Thirsty punters were flocking through the doors and coming back for more. The 2006 World Cup was merely the icing on a hugely popular and successful cake.

Those were the days, eh? Football fans crammed into UK pubs for the 2006 World Cup. Scottish & Newcastle calculated it had boosted their first half results by two per cent while Carlsberg sold an extra three million pints in the first two weeks of the tournament.

But there and again the World Cup always drags 'em in, doesn't it? Every pub in the land prospers. Always has done, textbook economics. You could bet your last buck on it.

Until the current 2010 World Cup. A staggering 79% of respondents to The Publican's online poll say the World Cup hasn't boosted their dwindling trade one iota, which corresponds with a survey in a rival publication.

How can this be possible? What did pubs offer in 2006 that they cannot today?

Of course we all know the reason. What else could it be? Yet still, three years on, as an industry we refuse to accept the painful reality that we're collectively guilty of a terrible, catastrophic error of judgement.

In 2006 it was calculated that every pub in Britain directly contributed an average of £78,000 into the local economy, taking everything into account from employment to charity. Take the 10,000 pubs (CGA) that have closed so far and you have a £0.78 Billion black hole - every year - growing ever wider. And that's assuming no more closures when we're facing another 15,000 pubs disappearing over the next few years.

In these days of austerity and crippling national debt it borders on criminal insanity that we've allowed this to happen. It's positively certifiable that we soldier on in denial, as if nothing's happened, finding any excuse to explain away this carnage rather than recognise the huge, grinning, elephant in the room.

We moan about 20p on a pint, the tie and the unfair competition from cheap supermarket booze, chanting in unison the mantra of how this could finish pubs altogether. When are we gonna realise this trade, as we know it, is already finished?

The Great British Pub is dead. It just doesn't know it yet.

It died three years ago when it allowed the State to dictate what goes on behind it's doors. It died when it ended a 450-year-old relationship with it's smoking customers.

Few at the time asked if this might be a poor idea. Instead of fighting for fairer concessions the trade instead lobbied hard for the 'level playing field'. Industry consensus went along with the plethora of bogus surveys financed at the taxpayers' expense proving beyond doubt that even smokers were desperate for a blanket ban.

Untold riches lay ahead if we converted our pubs into shrines to politically correct apartheid.

Critics such as myself were dismissed as doomsayers and conspiracy theorists. We still are, despite time proving us right.

This industry's obsession with clearing out the riff-raff was like Basil Fawlty on 'Gourmet Night'. Deep cleansing, sterilising and redecorating to remove any shred of evidence the once loyal, nasty smoking customers had ever been there. A new dawn was beginning and the promised New Breed of non-smoking customer was all that mattered.

Unwittingly the trade ripped out the very heart and soul of the pub. From that day on the customers began a long exodus that has been impossible to abate, draining the life blood from this industry.

Devoid of soul our pubs struggle on like zombies in the vain hope of a new injection of sustenance when NewBreed starts coming through the door.

When are we gonna realise the painful truth? NewBreed isn't coming. He never existed, other than in the cunning imagination of anti-smoking groups to bait the seductive hook this industry so hungrily swallowed.

Other pubs sold their souls to become psuedo-restaurants. All very well, anything to survive, but are they really 'pubs'?

My local Pizza Hut sells draught beer, ergo it is a pub. Would McDonalds become a 'pub' if it swapped it's root beer for the real thing?

More importantly, does anyone really believe this industry can sustain 40-50,000 competing food halls? Alongside all the successfully established curry houses, Thai and Chinese restaurants so beloved of our population? Alongside the growing number of Taybarns, and other purpose-built all-you-can-eat establishments? Alongside all the takeaways?

In essence a 'real' pub is an informal social space serving it's local community, where prince and pauper can rub shoulders as equals. It can offer food but it will never be a 'foodie'.

You go to a foodie pub to fill your belly, not to socialise.

Immediately on arrival your identity is reduced to a number on a wooden spoon or brass disc. The only person you are likely to meet is Debbie, an annoyingly chirpy-voiced bint who informs you she'll be your waitress for the evening.

This must be part of the 'excellence' we're always being told me must provide - then everything will be alright. If I hear that word one more time I swear I'll run out into the street and thump somebody.

Has anyone ever thought to ask the customers what they want? Why even non-smokers are rapidly going off today's pubs? They are desperately trying to tell us but we're just not listening.

For all this talk of 'excellence' it's customers we need, and desperately. Regulars who habitually sink a few pints then return the next day with their friends. They don't care about excellence. They want a welcome, a modicum of comfort and a full pint to be imbibed in like-minded company.

Answer this simple question: What would best benefit your pub's long term finances?

A modest reduction in alcohol duty? A 50p per 'unit' minimum price for supermarkets? Relaxation of the tie? A period of economic growth? Or a return to the prolific turnover levels of 2006?

If you chose the last option think carefully about how that could be achieved. As a sole trader you perhaps feel powerless to act effectively. You couldn't be more wrong.

You must first understand the cavalry won't be comin' to save you. Our industry 'leaders' have had their chance and done precisely nothing. They won't even admit they got anything wrong.

Even CAMRA, who should be on the punter's side, drift blindly along with the corporate men-in-suits, seemingly oblivious to your plight.

When the last of our pubs have gone these men will be working in other industries or drawing fat pensions in their country piles.

But it's still not too late. This trade has had it's back against the wall before and always came through. In the past we've depended on the e

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