Drinks journalist Andrew Pring has controversially claimed that, despite the closures of recent years, Britain still has far too many pubs and about a quarter of those that remain are fundamentally unviable.
He said: “We will still lose many thousands of pubs, regardless of what the government does. We are an over-pubbed nation. The pub’s USP has long since disappeared. All the technological developments have worked to the detriment of the pub. There is a whole generation who have grown up who don’t see the pub as a place to socialise.”
And, sad to say, he’s probably right, although of course it could equally be presented as a lack of pubgoers, not a surfeit of pubs. If supply exceeds demand, the imbalance can only be resolved in one of two ways.
The crisis of the pub trade is often presented, not least by Mike Benner in the linked article, as essentially a crisis of supply, caused by evil grasping pub companies, high-handed council planners and restrictive covenants. As one commenter says, “A free of tie option with open market rent for almost 2/3’s of all the pubs in the country will allow the feathers of the sector to regrow and stand a chance of flying again.”
However, surely in reality the problem is that at present there simply isn’t sufficient demand to sustain the existing pub stock, and nobody explains how supply-side improvements would magically increase demand by 25%. I would say that a good quarter – maybe even a third – of the currently trading pubs in areas I’m familiar with are not viable in the long term.