Saturday, 31 July 2010

Ostriches spotted in Manchester

I was struck by this piece from Chimp magazine (?!) who gathered together a panel to discuss the state of the pub trade in Manchester.
The item closest to The Chimp’s heart, though, was the panel on the putative demise of the Great British Boozer. And what a thoughtfully selected panel it was: Oliver Robinson of Robinson’s Brewery, Jan Rogers of Marble Brewery, Cleo Farman of Odd Group and John Quilter, former proprietor of now defunct Marmalade in Manchester 21.
Their discussions contained the astonishing statement that:
The panel also concurred that the smoking ban had had zero effect on their bottom line, and at least two of them enjoy a fag now and then to our knowledge, so no baccy-free evangelism here.
Now, that may be true for handful of metrosexual bars in Chorlton and Central Manchester, but surely these people cannot be blind to the pub devastation in Manchester’s suburbs and satellite towns. And are they saying that every single pub operator who has attributed reduced profits to the smoking ban over the past few years has been lying? Take this, for example, from J. W. Lees earlier this year:
JW Lees, the family-owned brewery based in Middleton, blamed another poor summer and the continuing impact of the smoking ban introduced in 2007 for a 34 per cent drop in profits in the year to March 31, 2009.
And I can’t honestly believe that is Oliver Robinson’s opinion, given the number of his company’s pubs that have closed over the past three years.

The continued denial of reality from some sections of the pub trade, while pubs continue to tumble like ninepins around them, is truly amazing.


  1. Whilst I'm sure the smoking ban has had a marginal impact on the number of pubs closing, there are far more important factors at play here.

    The majority of pubs that have closed I would characterise as local, so called community, pubs. In general city-centre pubs seem to have held up better. This merely reflects the fact that society is changing and becoming far more fragmented and to paraphase Thatcher, there is no such thing as community (as Toff Dave and his laughable Big Society idea will discover). People are no longer willing to rub along in the local with people they feel they have nothing in common with and instead, aided by increased mobility, will seek out pubs where they can mix with the like-minded, whether that's kids in youth-focussed drinking barns on the pull or the middle classes in the latest gastro-pub. The mixing of the classes and generations in the local is less and less common, more and more its each to their own and god help the publican who can't decide what his target clientele is.

    Secondly, price is important. Going to the pub is expensive, particularly when compared to supermarket prices - and with over 90% of drinkers drinking products which can be bought in exactly the same form in the supermarket, why go to the pub ? It's also undeniable that the economic meltdown will have had a major impact on closures both in terms of reduced custom and reduced access to financing for investment.

    It's also the case that our homes are more comfortable and packed with more sources of entertainment than ever - the local used to be the refuge from the world now its our front room.

    We should also take off those rose-tinted spectacles and accept that vast numbers of pubs are just awful, dirty, expensive, crap beer and food,disgusting toilets, an undercurrent of violence and with incompetent managers and publicans who think the world owes them a living. I can honestly say I've not regretted any of the pub closures in my area when considering those pubs on their own merits, the only regret comes when demolition or change of use removes the possibility of them being turned round in the future. All those people who used to frequent these pubs, including all those smokers, can now be found enjoying the competitive prices and comfort of their local Wetherspoons.

    Of course for those of us who have grown up with these locals this period of transition to a more fragmented and niche drinking scene is hard to take but there seems little that can be done in the light of these powerful social trends that will make much difference, least of all repealing the smoking ban. By all means argue against the ban on anti nanny state grounds but arguing that the smoking ban is responsible for more than a few pub closures in the face of all these other factors is over-egging the pudding and lacks credibility.

  2. The price differential was in existence well before the smoking ban - it's funny how pub operators have only started whingeing to high heaven about it since 1 July 2007. And in previous recessions the pub trade has held up well as going to the pub has been an affordable pleasure - what's different now?

  3. @Reading Tom

    Unbelievable nonsense! Are you suggesting that supermarkets have only recently started selling cheap alcohol?

    I seriously doubt that the general public's taste changes that dramatically in such a short space of time.

    Around 20% of the UK population smoke, but that's 40% of regular pub goers... what kinda margins do you think the average business operates on Tom?

    Could your business afford to piss off 40% of it's customer base, hang on, I'm betting you don't run a business nor ever have, my guess is your just a nasty little statist (NHS probably)

  4. No problem, at least for we smokers.

    We are developing our own places so the antismokers can feel free to flood the pubs with business.

    They can even have the beer gardens in summer. We don't need them any more, we have had enough of fake coughs and whining, and we won't need them in winter either. We've even started brewing our own beer.

    So, Reading Tom, your utopia is here. Enjoy. It's smoke free, we are in places you'll never visit or hear about so you won't ever need to be offended by us again.

    It's what you wanted.

  5. "We are developing our own places so the antismokers can feel free to flood the pubs with business."

    I was thinking of your blog when I wrote the comment in the previous post "And the more pubs become sanitised temples of health, the more their customers will turn to the arms of Tesco and informal social gatherings on private premises."

    @Anonymous - I read somewhere that, before the ban, smokers actually accounted for 52% of all pub customers. Many non-smokers were (and are) people to whom pubs just don't appeal, smoke or no smoke.

  6. I really do tire of people in denial over the smoking ban.

    These are the statistics of pub closures from 2004 to 2009 on a year by year basis, all figures provided by the British Beer and Pub Association, BBPA). The smoking ban came live, 1st July 2007.

    2004: 478
    2005: 102
    2006: 216
    2007: 1,409
    2008: 1,973
    2009: 2,365

  7. Dave

    If you were doing an economics exam, you would have failed. All you have demonstrated beautifully is the classic flaw of mistaking causality for correlation. Please repeat after me "Correlation does not imply causation".

    What you lot cheerfully choose to ignore is that the world-wide recession began in 2007. Hmmm wonder if that had anything to with pub closures? No, that's just coincidence. Silly me, it's the smoking ban...

  8. Still deep in denial, I see, Tyson.

  9. @Tyson

    This handy guide to pub closures from to 1980 to 2010 and the presumption is that the figures for 2010 closures are incomplete.

    The 4 biggest closure years as a % are 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. Go figure. Clue, smoking ban 1st July 2007.

  10. There are also the figures for Scotland which show a virtually identical jump in pub closures.... albeit when THEIR ban came in (ie in 2006, or some two years before the recession started).

    "The British Beer and Pub Association, whose Scottish wing represents almost one-third of the 5200 public houses north of the border, said that across the UK as a whole five pubs a day closed during the first half of this year
    [Sept 2008].

    The research by market researcher CGA Strategy shows that closure rates are up 33% from the 27 closures a week in 2007, nine times faster than in 2006 and 18 times faster than in 2005."

    Also, remember that as of Summer 2008, still only in the very early days of the recession, the BBPA said that the Scottish pub trade had been cut by 10% since their ban came in in 2006 - God knows what it is now.

    Or are you going to start arguing that the recession started in 2006 now?


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