Despite a resurgence in real ale, pub landlords are still under pressure as alcohol duty soars and pub companies sell off property. Brett Gibbons looks at an industry trying to stay afloat.
Enjoy your local pub or you may lose it. That is the message from the drinks trade as cut-price booze and spiralling costs risk sending the iconic British institution the same way as the red telephone box and the village post office.
As real ale group CAMRA pleads with the Government to spare beer from its latest Budget, the giant GMB union warned that pubs would shut as rising living costs such as VAT and rent were causing more customers to stay at home drinking cheap alcohol bought from the supermarket.
National officer Paul Maloney said: “Pubs are being priced out of the market. Government talk about binge drinking completely misses the point that supermarkets are the source of much of the cheap drink. Beer sales in pubs are 38.9 per cent down on the peak year of 2002.”
According to the British Beer and Pub Association, the typical cost of an on-trade beer has jumped by a pound since 2001. Duty is expected to rise by 7.1 per cent in the forthcoming Budget and, at the current rate of beer inflation, a pint will soon cost £4 a pint.
The upward surge is partly down to duty, which has risen from 28p to more than 40p in a decade. Expectations have risen, too: customers want decent food, stylish surroundings, clean toilets and family-friendly environments.
So pubs have had to change rapidly – or face the consequences and call time for good. It is beginning to pay off.
The Bartons Arms is an architectural bright spot in the high-rise municipal housing sprawl of Newtown. A former drinking house, it has developed a reputation as a place to find specialist cask ales and has become one of the city’s best-known purveyors of Thai food.
The St Paul’s Tavern in a leafy corner of the Jewellery Quarter has diversified into an Italian restaurant and bar.
Meanwhile in Oldbury, the Waggon and Horses has retained much of its original traditional ‘working man’s boozer’ interior, but introduced a mouth-watering gastro-pub menu to sit alongside strong Black Country ales.
But many hostelries are still falling by the wayside with alarming regularity. Birmingham has continued to lose some of its finest outlets. In the Black Country, where pubs used to grace every street corner, the humble local is now an exception to the rule.
Once thriving establishments, for no apparent reason other than a desire to make a financial killing, are being sold off mainly to property developers.
Others are simply being converted – with changes of use ranging from budget hotels to places of worship.