Destroying our nation's heritage

By Steve Alton

- Last updated on GMT

BII ceo on the plight of British pubs

Related tags Pub Beer Public house Legal Community Steve Alton

We are a nation of pub lovers. To us they represent more than just places to eat and drink, they are the places that we connect as people.

Special occasions, family events, catching up with friends, business meetings, community gatherings, meeting new people, seeing the game, testing your quiz knowledge, a safe space to be alone – our pubs provide inclusive places to celebrate, commiserate and connect. In 2017 Oxford University researchers found that having a local pub is linked to improved wellbeing due to social engagement. As we face the challenging months ahead, our pubs provide a vital and safe place to connect in our communities that will be needed more than ever.

However, the economic value of pubs should not be dismissed. The UK pub sector supports around 900,000 jobs in both pubs, breweries and supply chain businesses, with many young people developing skilled careers. Our pubs are also powerhouses for the economy, with an average contribution of around £140,000 every year to the Treasury. They are a critical part of the wider hospitality industry that generates around £40bn every year in taxes and is the UK’s third largest employer.

The business of pubs is viable and vibrant as this year’s relatively unrestricted summer trading proved. Other key sectors have undoubtedly seen accelerated change to the way they will trade in the long term, as we have adjusted our consumer habits through the extended national lockdown. We have all savoured returning to the pub at the first opportunity when many reopened in early July, an experience that cannot be replaced online. 

Our pub sector has the capability and capacity to be at the heart of our nation’s economic recovery once they are able to trade free of the current Government imposed restrictions. Not least in employment terms where we can offer viable, long term skilled opportunities across the UK and in particular for so many young workers who have been so badly affected by the pandemic. Safeguarding our nation’s pubs is good business and is an investment in a viable sector that will yield rapid returns.

Our pubs are an essential part of our national heritage with their inception dating back to Roman times. Public houses, our modern day pub, were more formally established in the 16th​ Century and have grown to be the social centres and focal points of their communities in villages, towns and cities across the UK. Their unique role in our communities was highlighted during our nation’s lockdown with many of them providing hugely valued essential services. Rapidly setting up grocery services, takeaway meals, virtual pub quizzes, and providing meals to the most vulnerable in our society all underlined how seriously our pubs take their role in supporting others. Despite their own financial difficulties, with no income during lockdown and significant ongoing costs, they turned their focus to helping others.  We at the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) have launched our national BIIHeart of The Community Award ​to recognize the many pubs that have done such great work in their communities.

Be in no doubt our nation’s pubs are in crisis and are facing irrecoverable failure. Their doors were shut in March following a slow winter trading period just as they would have begun to start to make money. With no income and significant running costs, many have built up large debts during lockdown. Reopening in early July, for those that could meet extensive new guidelines, was positive for most, supported by the Government Eat Out To Help Out scheme. Our pubs were among hospitality venues that safely welcomed 60 million visitors a week throughout the summer, with no discernable impact on national infection rates. September then presented a perfect storm for pubs. National infection rates started to climb as schools and universities reopened with pubs & hospitality being unfairly implicated. Additional pub specific restrictions started to come into place on top of the extensive guidelines that pubs had already successfully implemented. The impact of the 10pm curfew and for many the restriction on not mixing households, has seen dramatic drops in trade for many pub businesses that were already making a loss. With Wales in a ‘firebreak lockdown’, England moving to a four week lockdown this week and a strongly rumoured similar approach in Scotland being considered, our pubs are facing all of this in the worst possible state.

Our nation’s pubs are incredibly fragile.  Jobs are being lost across the sector, businesses are closing and further failure is inevitable without investment. Our recent hospitality survey indicated that over 50% of businesses are predicted to fail by March 2021 without further support, costing Government £20bn in lost revenues. Whilst sector specific restrictions are imposed by Government then sector specific support will be needed to safeguard our pubs through to the spring. This week we have written to the Chancellor alongside the other key trade and industry bodies proposing a very clear six-month investment plan to safeguard our viable sector.  We are not asking for handouts but investment in a sector that has proved its economic value time and time again. The pay back will be rapid in economic terms, delivering desperately needed employment and through maintaining essential services in our communities.

These are not just small viable businesses, local employers, buyers from local suppliers and family homes, they are the heart of our communities and an essential part of national heritage. They warrant and deserve our support to safeguard their futures for this generation and the next.

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