It’s a particular cause for optimism that the recent slowing in closures was largely driven by local community pubs, down from 26 shutting a week in the first half of 2015 to 20 in the second half.
And since George Osborne scrapped the beer duty escalator and gave the trade a hat-trick of duty cuts, the picture has improved slightly with the closure rate slowing from 33 a week in 2014 to 27 a week in 2015.
Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers chief executive Kate Nicholls noted there were signs of growth, particularly among modern food led pubs and bars.
But digging deeper into the figures gave a less positive impression of the state of the industry.
“As always, the picture is far from consistent across the country — while some city centres are thriving, other suburban high streets continue to struggle – and the recovery is fragile,” Nicholls said.
Suburban pubs are the hardest hit by closures, with an average of 13.3 lost a week, compared to 7.2 rural and 6.2 high street sites in the second half of 2015.
The first six months of the year saw 17.1 suburban closures a week and 2.8 on the high street.
'Arresting the decline'
But CAMRA reflected on the figures with optimism. Chief executive Tim Page said the research proves “the work of campaigners across CAMRA, the wider pub and beer industry and the Government is taking effect and arresting the decline in the number of pubs being lost every week”.
But, highlighting how fragile the recovery is, a report from the Centre of Economics and Business Research concluded that, if there was no cut to beer duty last year, prices would have increased by 16p a pint, more than 1,000 additional pubs would have closed, 750 million fewer pints would have been sold and 26,000 jobs would not have been created.
According to CAMRA’s research, the UK is now left with 52,750 pubs, down from 66,177 in 2006. These shocking statistics indicate that the UK has lost one fifth of pubs in a decade.
Page continued: “It’s a fragile recovery, which could very quickly be reversed if the Government fails to build on this positive development and misses the chance to support the British pub and beer industry by reducing tax again.”
The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “These figures show that the trade still needs a boost from the Budget, and CAMRA is absolutely right to highlight a cut in beer duty as the crucial issue.”
Undo the good work
And David Forde, the new chairman of the BBPA, told the PMA’s sister title M&C Allegra Report that if the Government did not reduce beer duty in next month’s Budget it would undo the impact of three successive one-penny cuts.
“We have to take a longer term perspective. This is a long-term industry in the UK,” he said. “The elimination of rates relief has hit pubs hard. The national living wage is an issue for everyone, but for the employment profile in our sector it’s going to have a disproportionate effect. The apprenticeship levy will hit some pubcos and there’s also auto-enrolment for pensions.”
More than 3,000 CAMRA members have lobbied their MPs to call for a reduction in beer duty and the campaign group has urged people to make their views known via camra.org.uk/beertax2016.