Thursday, 9 April 2009

3,000 and counting

Today, the ticker in the left-hand side bar recording the number of pubs closed in England since 1 July 2007 has reached the 3,000 mark. I’m sure I don’t need to remind readers what that date signifies.

In case anyone is in any doubt, I am a non-smoker of many years’ standing. But I regard the ban as grossly objectionable and illiberal in its own right, setting a precedent for all sorts of other assaults on people’s freedom to live their lives as they choose, and on a practical level doing serious damage to the pub trade.

I’m not saying the smoking ban is the sole factor behind pub closures, but I’m convinced it has been by far the biggest one over the past couple of years. My gut feeling is that overall it has taken about 15% of the purely wet trade out of pubs – that is drinks bought on occasions when customers are not eating. In previous recessions, the pub trade has stood up very well, with people seeing a visit to the pub as an affordable pleasure, but in this one pubs have been dropping like flies.

Even two years later, a lot of pubs still feel a bit flat and empty, as though some of the character (and characters) that once was there has been lost. They may still be busy on Friday and Saturday nights, but at lunchtimes and earlier in the week many pubs are a lot quieter than they were before.

The smoking ban was what originally spurred the creation of this blog, and it is significant that the very first post was about Bansturbation, while the third recorded what was possibly the first pub closure it caused (although it may be the case that some marginal landlocked wet-led pubs closed before the ban as it was clear they wouldn’t be viable afterwards).

Obviously it would be foolish for anyone running a pub to make business plans in the hope that the ban will be repealed, but as were are now seeing with the fox-hunting ban, it is incorrect to assert that such measures are irrevocable.

12 comments:

  1. What is it we're now seeing with the fox-hunting ban? That article just says "Tory spokesman and Countryside Alliance member says Tory and Countryside Alliance policy is getting more popular". Which, of course, he would say.

    It takes more than "a gathering sense of support" to repeal anything.

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  2. It's not even a repeal that is required, an amendment would suffice. It's a common misdirection amongst the likes of ASH and those that think like them, to offer a stark choice - full ban or no ban.

    The simple fact is that there were better alternatives, such as those that work well in Europe. It's also worth noting that where choice is offered on the continent, smoking prevalence is still falling ... unlike in the UK and Ireland since the respective bans.

    People react favourably to choice and negatively to prohibition. It's human nature.

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  3. The point about the fox-hunting ban is that repeal or substantial amendment is seen as a genuine political possibility. Bans can be reversed, which gives the lie to those who argue that the smoking ban has happened and people should just accept it and move on.

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  4. According to that article, it's seen as a genuine political possibility by politicians who want it reversed, seemingly based on nothing but their desire to have it reversed.

    I take your point that all bans are reversible, and I would never assert the contrary, I just don't see where the foxes come into it. FWIW, I think the smoking ban stands on its own merit.

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  5. Ah yes, a policy that closes 20% of the pubs in the RoI, increases smoking prevalence and gives a hostage to fortune to every lifestyle restriction going really "stands on its own merit".

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  6. Eh? Where's your 20% of pubs closed number from? Let me guess: three letter acronym with a V in it.

    Pubs close because we have a finite number of licences (have done since 1902), and the artificially-inflated cost of transference (about €180,000 these days) favours moneyed convenience store chains over people who want to run pubs as going concerns.

    The publicans have blocked every move by the government to liberalise licensing and make it possible for new licences to be created. They like the €180,000 that Spar will give them for their licence when they decide they want to sell up.

    Aside from smoking, the other lifestyle restriction they complained about vociferously, back in 1994, was the tightening of drink driving laws. But don't worry: that one can be reversed too.

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  7. Interesting point about ROI licences BN. How do publicans manage to block change though?

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  8. Several are members of parliament, many more are in local government. They also have close relationships with the main government party through funding and the like. They are a very well organised lobby group through the LVA and VFI. Recently, the Competition Authority has been wondering out loud why the leaders of these groups aren't in jail.

    The attempt to liberalise licensing happened when the Justice minister was from another party. It got no further than an announcement of intent, then a quite word would have been had in the corridors of power and no more was heard about it.

    Every time a pub closes in Ireland, it means the publican has been handed a cheque for €180k. It's the way they like it.

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  9. http://www.drinksindustry.ie/news.php?intPageID=4&intSectionID=35

    “In all likelihood the 1,500 pub closures that we have seen in recent years will become more pronounced in 2009. Throughout urban and rural Ireland pubs and bars have had to close due to declining sales and declining customer numbers.

    "The latest data relates to September. In that month the volume of bar sales was 9.1% below the same month in 2007. The value decline was a lower 5.8% due to price increases."

    How many pubs were there to start with? I seem to recall a figure of around 9,000 being quoted.

    OK, Ireland's restrictive licensing regime may not help, but this wasn't happening before the ban to anything like the same extent.

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  10. What about my freedom to come home not stinking of other people's fag smoke?

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  11. There's never been any law against operating wholly non-smoking pubs - if you used to come home stinking of other people's fag smoke it was your choice.

    And I always find "freedom froms" far less convincing than "freedom tos".

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  12. I always find "freedom froms" far less convincing than "freedom tos".Me too. It's why the smoking ban, here at least, has always been pitched as a workplace safety issue. As a customer I had the option of not going in and breathing other people's smoke; as a barman I never did. But thankfully that has changed.

    The article you posted blames cross-border shopping and the general economic climate for the decline in pub trade. It doesn't even mention the smoking ban, saying that the decline has been steady since 2001 (three years before the ban) and was worst in 2008 (four years after the ban).

    I honestly can't see how you got from this article to the statement that the ban is "a policy that closes 20% of the pubs in the RoI". If anything, it shows that the ban is not a concern for the people trying to keep the drinks industry healthy.

    Me, I think the best thing the drinks industry could do is make better beer and make pubs more pleasant to go to. It's the horrible ones that keep closing.

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