In the comments, Matthew Lawrenson recently asked, perfectly reasonably, whether there was anything that could be done to increase the amount of customers in pubs. Realistically, at least in terms of government policy, the answer is no. The decline in the pub trade has been caused by a variety of long-term social trends that are beyond the control of government. Indeed, I would argue that it isn’t really the business of government to seek to protect declining industries. Such policies invariably end in tears.
All that can reasonably be expected from government is that they abstain from kicking a man when he’s down and knowingly making matters worse. So they shouldn’t have implemented the smoking ban or the beer duty escalator, and nor should they have followed a line in official health messages calculated to make people feel guilty about moderate and responsible levels of drinking. Fortunately they have not so far reduced the drink-driving limit, which would have heaped further misery on pubs.
But, on the other hand, no trend lasts forever and things can often turn around in unexpected ways. In the late 50s, much the same was being said. Beer volumes had been slowly but steadily declining for a decade, with the lure of staying at home in front of the new-fangled gogglebox being widely blamed. Brewers were struggling to invest in their tied estates and many were seeking the shelter of defensive mergers. Yet the following twenty years saw an amazing boom in the pub trade, with beer sales almost doubling and huge amounts of investment in upgrading pubs, albeit often insensitively. Few in 1959 would have foreseen that.