Business

UK pub sector expands for first time in 10 years

People in a pub Image copyright Getty Images

Britain's pubs have seemed to be in state of terminal decline over the last decade, with about 700 shutting every year.

However, official figures suggest the sector may be turning a corner.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there was a net gain of 320 pubs in the year to March - the first increase since 2009.

Marketing software firm Stampede, which obtained the figures, said pubs were trying to broaden their appeal.

Since 2010, almost 6,000 pubs have been lost from Britain as consumers rein in their spending and young people drink less.

Pubs have also faced a "triple whammy" of high beer duty, rising business rates and VAT, according to industry group the Campaign for Real Ale.

The ONS figures, which are the most recent available, show the UK ended March 2019 with 39,135 pubs - a slight net increase on the same month a year earlier.

Most of the new openings were in England, and there was a small net gain in Northern Ireland. Scotland and Wales continued to see declines.

On Tuesday, British pub chain Wetherspoon said it planned to add 10,000 jobs in the UK and Ireland over the next four years by opening new pubs and hotels and enlarging existing ones.

A spokesman for the chain welcomed the new figures, adding: "Pubs play an important role in their respective communities. We hope that this is a trend that will continue."

Stampede, which predicts the sector will add almost 9,000 jobs next year, credited the growth to a change in pubs' attitudes.

It said many operators realised they could no longer rely on the "same old regulars", and were instead improving their menus, hosting events and offering accommodation.

"The reduction of pubs over the last decade has been heart-breaking, following devastating changes to business taxes and alcohol duties, but I hope these figures signpost a reversal of fortunes," said boss Patrick Clover.

The British Beer & Pub Association said it was "cautiously optimistic" about the figures which differ from its own estimations of pub numbers. The trade group believes closures still outnumber openings but said the rate of decline had slowed.

"Our pubs continue to be under severe pressure to stay open. Closures have been driven by increasing and considerable cost pressures from a range of sources; particularly high beer duty, unfair business rates and VAT. This is deeply concerning because pubs are a great British institution and are often the social hub of their local community," a spokesperson from the BBPA told the BBC.

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Media captionStaying away from traditional pubs 'could be damaging to millennials' development'

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