Recently-published ONS data confirm the large fall in the number of pubs, from around 50,000 in 2008 to around 39,000 pubs in 2018.
The ONS report, Economies of Ale, has analysed the performance of the UK’s pub sector since 2001 and it shows that while employment in UK pubs has risen since 2001, nevertheless around one in four pubs have closed since the 2008 financial crisis but the rate of decline has slowed in recent months. The industry remains on a downward trajectory with the remaining pubs and bars appearing to have soaked up the custom from those pubs that have closed down, states the report.
Outer-city areas see pub numbers plummet
Many areas on the edge of big cities and in the commuter belt have seen the biggest declines in the number of pubs, reports the ONS.
All areas of Northern Ireland have seen pubs close their doors, with numbers down by more than a third between 2001 and 2018.
Most UK pubs are small, independently owned businesses – and it’s mainly these kinds of pub that have closed over the last decade. But the number of independently-owned larger pubs is steadily rising.
Although the vast majority of pubs in the UK employ fewer than 10 members of staff, the data shows that medium-sized pubs are performing particularly well, with the number of sites of this size nearly doubling in 18 years. The number of large pubs, meanwhile, has tripled in this time, with 1,495 currently operating around the UK.
The report shows that large companies are consolidating their portfolios and focusing more on venues which allow them to diversify their offering to consumers, namely opening more food-led pubs and sites with rooms.
But these figures don’t tell the full story of how the UK pub trade is doing.
Small pub chains, which are often regional, family-owned businesses, have also switched their focus away from small pubs towards medium and large bars.
And at the same time, the large “pubcos” (nationwide companies with 250 or more outlets) have almost completely abandoned small pubs, disposing of lots of them in the early 2000s, concentrating instead on their bigger bars.
Although lots of pubs have closed, the total turnover of pubs and bars has held up, remaining ‘flat’ since 2008 once inflation is taken into account.
There are now 5,000 more people employed by pubs than there were at the turn of the Millennium.
While the number of jobs in pubs dipped during the economic downturn, there are now 6% more jobs in pubs and bars than there were in 2008. The largest increases have been in bigger pubs (those with 10 or more employees). This may be because pubs are increasingly focussed on serving food as well as drink, which requires more waiting and kitchen staff.
In 2008 pubs in the UK had a median number of five employees. By 2018, partly due to the closure of many smaller pubs, this had increased to eight employees.
Interestingly, the rise in employment has been more pronounced in rural pubs, where in 2018 total employment in England and Wales is up 17% compared with 2008. In contrast, total employment in urban pubs rose by only 4% over the same period.
Around 70% of workers in pubs and bars are paid less than the Living Wage Foundation’s Living Wage rate, currently £10.55 per hour in London and £9 per hour elsewhere, based upon full-time workers being able to afford a basic set of goods and services.