Last Orders for the Great British Pub?

The last decade has seen the traditional Great British Pub face a number of challenges.

What was once the heart and soul of a community is fast approaching its untimely demise. Can it be saved?

Approximately 28 pubs close every week, according to Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). Evidently the British pub industry is facing some serious challenges.

The last decade has seen a number of significant changes in legislation which have caused a detrimental impact on the industry.

In 2003, the Licensing Act was introduced, consolidating numerous licensing laws into one Act. It also made provisions for round-the-clock drinking, which became effective in 2005. But while this saw the granting of many 24-hour licenses to sell alcohol, the traditional pub seldom serves alcohol into the early hours. This simply encouraged consumers to drink elsewhere – for instance at nightclubs and bars instead.

supermarket alcohol booze drinks
The availability of cheap booze at supermarkets has affected the pub trade, but the government is finally addressing this with a ban on the sale of alcohol below cost price.

The smoking ban followed in 2006. Some pubs used this opportunity to expand into other areas such as gastro dining to maintain customers, but others suffered a decline as they failed to adapt to the changes.

Fierce competition grew during the recession as supermarkets offered super saver booze deals, encouraging consumers to drink at home instead, hitting many “local” pubs hard.

But one of the key killers of the pub is deeply rooted within the industry itself – the PubCos and the beer-tied pubs. PubCos are companies which own and rent out pubs. Not only are their tenants obliged to pay inflated rent for the premises, they are also forced to purchase their drinks from the PubCo, inevitably at a premium.

However, things are starting to look more promising, as recent legislative proposals and amendments have started to favour pubs.

Last month’s Queen’s Speech saw Nick Clegg propose a new Statutory Code of Practice for these beer-tied pubs. This will provide tenants with new rights regarding rent review, as well as the option to dispute unfair practices before an independent adjudicator.

Additionally, in June 2014 the Government temporarily relaxed legislation by allowing an extension of pub opening hours for the World Cup. This benefited pubs that would not otherwise have been authorised to stay open without applying for a one-off late license at their own cost.

Moreover, earlier this year, “beer duty” was once again cut by 1p for the second consecutive year. This, according to CAMRA, “will help to maintain a healthier pub sector”.

Finally, to help combat competition with the supermarket, a ban on the sale of alcohol below cost price has become a new licensing condition of the Mandatory Code of Practice.

The decline of an authentic British tradition has at least been recognised and it seems as though steps are now being taken to aid a potential revival. Should this trend continue, the Great British Pub need not yet be a thing of the past.

Victoria Clissold is a trainee solicitor at Shoosmiths.