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Pubs are widely considered an important part of Britain’s culture and heritage, a major source of employment and potentially provide a less harmful drinking environment compared to home drinking. As a result, supporting pubs is a policy objective for politicians of all parties.
However, the number of UK pubs has been in decline since at least 1980, and closures (particularly of traditional community ‘wet led’ pubs) have accelerated over the past decade. A wide range of theories have been advanced to explain this trend.
Policies often proposed to help pubs, such as cutting alcohol tax, loosening licensing restrictions and relaxing the smoking ban, often run counter to evidence-based public health policies. However, publicans are rarely directly consulted in the policy process, typically represented by trade organisations that must balance their interests against those of other members, such as brewers.
We wanted to speak to publicans to better understand the opportunities and challenges they face, their policy priorities and to discover whether common ground can be found between the pub trade and public health objectives. We commissioned CGA Strategy, the leading on-trade market research provider, to survey a representative sample of 103 pub managers in February 2017.
- Contrary to the impression of crisis that dominates much of the debate around pubs, we found that publicans are generally optimistic about the state of the industry, with 53% predicting that this year will be better than the last
- A common perception is that pub closures are the result of poor management and a failure to respond to market trend. This optimism is largely based on the opportunities provided by food sales, with 48% ranking the shift to food sales among the top three most promising developments for their businesses
- Intense competition is the other major commercial concern, with many publicans reporting improved sales following the closure of local competitors, but others fearing the negative impact of new openings (especially major chains such as Wetherspoons)
- Publicans acknowledge the negative consequences of drinking – 44% believe that the UK has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol
- In particular, cheap off-trade alcohol is seen as a grave danger, both to pubs’ commercial fortunes and to the country’s health
- Supermarket competition is seen as the single greatest threat to pubs, with almost half (48%) of publicans rating it among their three biggest concerns
- 83% of publicans believe supermarket alcohol is too cheap, and 73% think increasing its price should be a priority for politicians in tackling alcohol problems
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