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Behind the smiles, the stark reality facing our Great British Pubs

Our Great British pubs, at the heart of every community, are part of our national heritage and have always been the envy of the world.

Their very future now hangs in the balance as they start on the road to recovery after 18 months of closure or severe trading restrictions. Once viable and vibrant businesses, they are now facing years of recovery and for many, they are seriously considering just giving up entirely. 

What is clearly missed by many is that the majority of UK pubs are independently operated. Led by entrepreneurs, they provide essential skilled employment in every community and support many local businesses, not least the fantastic local brewers that bring unique products to our pubs with regional beers. These are not corporate giants with extensive financial resources, they are small local business supporting livelihoods and homes.

The financial realities for pubs are stark; loss making for nearly a year and a half, many have used all their personal savings including pensions, to stay afloat. Despite Government support, many have also had to take additional debt of over £50,000 and are now facing significant cost increases for food, drink and utilities. The majority of pubs are expected to take more than four years to pay this debt back. The long-awaited start of the road to recovery is now also being severely impacted by chronic staff shortages, wage inflation, on top of reduced trading levels leading to further losses.

The true value of our nation’s pubs is too quickly overlooked. In fact, many feel that they have been demonized through the pandemic as a risk to public health, despite the compelling evidence to the contrary. Pubs provide tangible social value in every community in tackling many key social issues, including the chronic impact of loneliness and isolation. A recent study by Loughborough University demonstrated that for every £1 invested in community pubs they delivered £9 in social value. This is why we at the BII care so passionately about our nation’s pubs, they are at the heart of our social fabric connecting us all. 

What makes our nation’s pubs so very special is that they provide a unique space in our communities where we come together to celebrate, commiserate and to simply catch up. However, pubs are just bricks and mortar without a great Landlord or Landlady and their team. They have reached out to their communities throughout the pandemic providing essential support and services particularly caring for the vulnerable, all of this whilst their doors were closed. We have seen the enormous contribution they make within their communities and we at the British Institute of Innkeeping have proudly recognised over 130 examples of this outstanding work through our Heart of the Community Award.

Our sector is led by entrepreneurs who are optimistic in nature, however, this alone will not be enough to safeguard our nation’s vital pubs. They will need ongoing support particularly as their key summer trading has been devastated through restrictions and ‘pingdemic’ closures. The existing support packages must be extended, long term reform of business rates reducing this unfair tax burden, a continued reduced level of VAT for our sector and a significant specific beer duty cut for pubs to help drinks led community pubs who have suffered most heavily.  This is an investment in viable businesses, with over 900,000 people employed in the pub sector, and with an average pub generating £140,000 per year in revenues to the Treasury, it is one that will be quickly repaid.  

We have been taking the voices of our members throughout the pandemic directly to Government and I am encouraged to see the economic and social contribution of pubs recognised at the heart of the recently published Hospitality Strategy, the first ever. We will continue to work closely with Government to ensure that this strategy is turned into action to safeguard our nation’s pubs. Our sector offers significant value to the nation’s economic recovery through skilled employment, careers and opportunities for entrepreneurs to build great businesses in every community.

They will need help now more than ever from all stakeholders, including local authorities as well as central Government. It will take time for many to rebuild their teams, retrain them and meet all of the operational standards that we expect of great pubs. They will also need every opportunity to diversify in order to rebuild their fragile businesses and they will need support and collaboration to make this happen. At long last our pubs have had formal recognition from Government that their fortunes are central to our economic recovery and the rebuilding of our high streets. They are a critical element of tourism across the UK whilst also providing an essential community space for all.  They deserve our support.

The smile greeting you at your local pub is very real and so is the threat to their very existence.
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