Two months ago, the fire. The Crookedest pub in England, the “Crooked House” of the 18th century in West Midlands, is charred by the flames. Collective shock, although the pub had already been sold to a couple of investors, now suspected of having caused the fire to save money on the disposal and conversion of the pub. Flood of protests on Twitter. Popular motorcycle to rebuild the Crooked House “brick by brick”. After all, in the United Kingdom and Ireland pubs are the churches of the people, with the “difference”, in addition to the carpet, “that you can also have a good conversation there”, as he said William Blake. Where not only do you drink (a lot of) ale beer or compulsively play darts as in “London Fields” by Martin Amis. Because this, for the English, is also the public house.
by our correspondent Antonello Guerrera
Now, however, we are increasingly being evicted from this house. According to data from the real estate company Altus Group, 383 pubs in England and Wales have already closed in the first six months of 2023. A figure very close to that of the whole of 2022, when the Covid emergency bit the hardest: 386. In practice, we are at the rate of two pubs a day closing their shutters forever and being converted into apartments, offices or shops. The situation is particularly worrying in Wales, where 52 breweries said no more in the first half of this year. A similar trend in two other areas of the country, the regions of North-West England and the albeit endless London, both with 46 closures.
Pubs have been declining for years
The number of pubs in England is steadily declining for years: they were 60 thousand in 2000, now we are at 45 thousand. This time, there is aggravating inflation and the energy crisis, which has ruined many places. Yet, after the Covid explosion, the British government significantly helped pubs and restaurant businesses, not just with a flood of money during the lockdowns. Even today, in fact, locals enjoy a strong discount on bills, of 75%, up to a maximum of 110 thousand pounds per year (around 125 thousand euros). This bonus, which costs the executive almost 2.5 billion euros, is destined to disappear from spring 2024. Therefore Chris Jowsey, CEO of the “Admiral Taverns” chainurged the government of Rishi Sunak “to prolong the measure, otherwise there could be a massacre of English pubs.” «With energy costs increasing by 80% compared to the previous year, in a period of low growth, high inflation and high interest rates – he adds Alex Probyn of Altus Group – next year the last thing managers will need is an average increase in expenses equal to 12,385 pounds (about 15 thousand euros, ed.)”.
The citizens’ crisis
The main causes of the depopulation and closure of many pubs in England and Wales lie precisely in impact of the economic crisis on citizens, with skyrocketing living costs. If general inflation has now fallen, with difficulty, to 6.7%, that of food (and alcohol) has also reached 20% in recent months and still remains in double figures (around 10%). In London a pint of beer has also become expensive 8 pounds (around 9 euros) and, in the post-Covid era, many English people go to the pub more rarely than in the past. Then there is a generational and cultural question: crisis or not, statistics in hand, young British people frequent traditional beer bars much less than their parents and grandparents. Finally, also due to Brexit and the harsh “Australian” points-based immigration system, many venues lack staff, which before the exit from the EU and the pandemic was filled by many young Europeans, whose numbers have now reduced.
In London, at least in its immense “centre”, the emergency is not visible. Pubs are often packed, especially after work or on weekends, even with tourists. Problems emerge when you leave the posh or crowded areas and enter the suburbs. Here the venues, especially the independent ones and not part of large chains like Wetherspoons or Stonegate, to survive they cannot raise prices much more, given that they rely on mainly local customers. And therefore they struggle more to survive.
But the big chains aren’t doing very well either. So much so that they are increasing the price of beer, wine and spirits when venues are busier, on weekends, in the evening, or during the broadcast of major sporting events. The decision that is causing a sensation across the Channel is by the Stonegate group, the largest in the country, which manages around 4,500 pubs, bars and restaurants, like the chain “Slug & Lettuce” and Yates, and which has put up for sale as many as 800, as well as dozens for Wetherspoons. The measure provides for pints and glasses of alcoholic beverages to be charged 20 pence (less than 25 euro cents) more per drink. “We decided this way because in the busiest hours of our clubs we need more resources to pay bartenders, bouncers, cleaners…”. Welcome to the “unhappy hour” of English pubs.