I was mulling over plans for a walk in the woods recently. Blean Woods National Nature Reserve is around 20 miles from where I live, so I naturally started to research the possibility of a pub lunch as part of the day out. Beer and a ploughman’s tastes even more delicious when you’ve earned it through a bit of a hike after all.
I found out that the two best-located pubs for my purposes had closed down and I became a bit distracted from my fantasies of hearing nightingales sing as I strode through swathes of bluebells. Soon after, I read another shocking headline from The Morning Advertiser about pub closures – more than 900 pubs shut down last year. My mind then wandered completely from the delights of the natural world into trying to fathom why we’re losing so many pubs.
I shared my bafflement with an old friend, with whom I’ve gone to pubs for some 30 years. She quickly responded that unreliable public transport was one of the things that put her off going these days. Cancelled trains have left her stranded too many times and last buses run at such ridiculously early times that you’d be lucky to catch one after a lunch drink, let alone a night out. She’s not wrong. I often balk at adding the cost of a taxi to a trip to the pub, to the degree that I end up not going. If I was 100% sure there would be beer on I really wanted to drink and that it would be well kept and served, I’d probably be less fussed about paying for a lift home. Alas we’re in an era of beer lottery with the cost of travelling to the pub your stake or bet. (Will you win a fab pint and a great evening out, or shoddy beer and a surly bartender saying no one else has complained?!) Maybe there should be a tax break for pubs that lay on transport for customers. Some sort of community minibus or such that got people home safely might encourage more pubgoers.
As I was pondering this, a glimmer of an answer in a press release crossed my desk. According to research by supermarket Waitrose, 54% of British people make at least four meals a week from scratch. It also mentioned other research, by market analysts Kantar Worldpanel, which found Brits spend more time eating and drinking at home each week than other Europeans (three and a half more hours a week than the French, for example). Perhaps people are making an event of a home-cooked meal, with nights in replacing nights out?
Apparently though, there’s also trend towards rustling up meals very quickly. Which is what I do when I want to eat something substantial before going out for a few pints at a pub that doesn’t serve food. With so many pubs closing though, I’d guess I’m in the minority with that.
Submit evidence before it’s too late
I’m not the only one to wonder about all this. The All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group (APPBG) has announced an inquiry into the future of the UK’s pubs. It will consider their contribution to communities, economies and wellbeing. Boosting pubs’ potential through tax and regulatory change is on the agenda. The plan is to start hearing evidence in May and to report in October. The cynics among us might be thinking of the thousands of pounds of registrable financial benefits from pubcos the APPBG receives. Then they’ll move on to bemoaning MPs’ record of prolonged waffling without reaching a resolution on Brexit. You can’t blame them because precious little of any good is being done lately.
Here’s my list of top issues threatening pubs. Sky-high business rates, inflated beer prices charged to tied licensees, unfair practices making it hard for tenants to run their pubs profitably, the new-age temperance movement, the chef shortage, potential Brexit-related staff shortages, ill-considered refurbishments, too many open-plan pubs, too much noise and the late-night levy. Pubs are really up against it. It will take more than cross-party parliamentary group inquiry to solve things, but it’s a start. If you’re reading this before 10 May there’s still time to submit written evidence to the APPBG enquiry by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.